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Giving up Control for a Connected Culture

I applaud the efforts that some have made to champion the need and reduce the effort to connect with friends, neighbors, peers, colleagues and family (companies large and small). Whether they live around the corner, or around the globe, we are networked, in-tune, connected to peers through a device tethered to our hip. A Skype chat here, Google Hangout there, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, SMS; sharing thoughts, images, videos on your favorite digital channel.

Are We Better Off?

Or as Jim Stogdill surmises in a recent post:

“You can live a rich, fulfilling expanded life experience outside of the constraints of physical space, without fourth amendment protections (or even locks on your doors).”

This question has been asked with more frequency. Are we [really] better off? The unqualified answer is: We are not sure. Mr. Stogdill continues (this was written after a debate, take a look), he puts a point to the conversation:

“The connected world is a world that is both more democratic and more concentrated, at the same time. Which of these forces “wins” — and under what circumstances? … Like our universe, does the connected world keep expanding with forces of democratization? Or does it collapse into concentrated plutocracy under those who have privileged positions on the network? We don’t even know what dark matter to weigh to answer the question.”

I do not try to hide the fact that I have a few issues with certain “service” providers in my local state. The words above accurately represent my opinion, stating it better than I ever could. Certain individuals and companies do sit in ‘the catbird seat‘ and have a bit too much say in how the connectedness manifests itself; the government is quite enough, I do not need more ‘big brothers’. Yes, I am in support of maintaining decorum, such as no porn, stalking and other safeguards that are required (and would be helped by identity management). That said, please do not stand the way of conversations that are fair and need to be had.

When conversations are controlled, that is when things get a bit unnerving. In a recent Twitter conversation I had with former (Burlington) City Councilor, Ed Adrian, we went back and forth (in 140 characters or less). Two very important points: I have a high level of respect for Councilor Adrian and we are allowed to have a disagreement over an idea without attacking an individual. Interestingly, no one intercepted the conversation, moderated it or censored it. The Councilor made very interesting points and near the end of the discussion shared this “The creator of the community gets to set the standard period & the smaller the community the more narrow the standard“-  true, and a bit scary.

Who is the creator of the community? Does a community define a platform, or does a platform define the community?

From Business worlds to Personal Worlds, what we can learn.

In the business context, this exact same issue is making an appearance. Dion Hinchcliffe put together the following diagram, as well as some thoughts. If you are more of the consumer type, feel free to ignore the words as they may simply confuse. However, if you look at the picture, it should be clear that silos exist, outside of the corporate 4 walls.

“in the process of mDionaking many short term decisions in the name of reach and convenience, many of us have given away our social capital, and along with it much of our online autonomy and freedom.”

Imagine, for example, that after a storm or some other natural disaster, your city or town is in the awkward position of needing a facility to hold town meeting. A local real-estate developer comes to the rescue and offers her building to use, for “free”. The only conditions are that she is allowed to put advertising on the wall  and she may dictate the flow of the conversation. That said it is “free”. The world is increasingly digital and digital conversations need to play by the same rules as in-person conversations – they are just a bit different. Facilitate, do not censor.

“Should we cave in and trust that the corporate owners of the social world will be benevolent, even when they clearly have business models that are very often at cross purposes to our needs and desires?”

Dion points out that the fragmentation which occurs when smaller more autonomous networks. It becomes increasingly difficult to communicate and/or collaborate across “social islands”. Even worse if the controls on the smaller ones are artificial and driven by a vague purpose. Can’t we all just get along….

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rich N November 15, 2013, 10:06 AM

    Well you tweeted at me so I’m responding.

    It’s easy to look at online/offline as a zero sum game. I don’t. I think it’s additive (or that it should be). Not everyone behaves like this. But in the case of digital/virtual connectedness, I see that it embellishes connections and behaviors in real life. In Vermont, the connected community has already paid off in spades when it comes to real change and connection.

    I think Front Porch Forum does this at its best, although I will say that I can only view Front Porch Forum through the very, very narrow lens of my neighborhood FPF. That version is very polite and community oriented, just like the people who live here. That is not always the case as reports from South Burlington and Hinesburg can confirm.

    It’s important to remember that FPF and other online communities are first and foremost businesses. They are not altruistic ones and zeros aimed solely at helping communities, even though they may in fact do that. Michael Wood-Lewis is in his full right to grow and prosper from his community business. If we, as consumer and citizens, don’t like that business, we can leave it be and urge others to do the same.

    The same applies to your “free” example above. We might use the ad plastered room. But we’ll never do business again with the developer.

    The biggest issue in this case is that Wood-Lewis has received Vermont state funding to expand his business. Which implies that the state supports the arbitrary rules that allow Wood-Lewis to ban anyone who doesn’t like him or his business.

    As citizens, though, Mitch, we have the power to change that. Primarily through our connected network. The biggest challenge is: who wants to take on something like that? It’s far less important for you or I to spend our limited social capital pushing that change than it is for Wood-Lewis to fight tooth and nail to keep his state funding.

    This is why I admire hackers: the amount of time and effort it takes one person to sabotage a network compared with the time and money it takes business to defend against those attacks is completely out of balance. Sometimes I wish social capital worked that way.

    By the way, giving up control is a good things for people to practice. It makes them more human. Politicians especially would do well to remember that.

  • Mitch Lieberman November 15, 2013, 11:48 AM


    Some very valuable comments and an important perspective. I did reach out and appreciate the response. I am not going to throw in more points here, we can chat in person, to your point, it is more than a zero sum game. My hope is that more people can see and hear all sides, that is about as much social capital as will toss at this…