That was then, this is now.
I just finished reading a fascinating, revelatory book by Clay Shirky called Here Comes Everybody. It’s about the radical changes in this brave new world we’re inhabiting when it comes to things like communications, organizing, publication…
We all know it’s going on. From texting to blogging to Facebook to tweeting, everything’s different from the way it was last century, last year, heck, almost last week.
For old folks like me, we know Web 2.0 is out there, we may even use some of the tools, but we don’t really “get it.” In fact, to some extent, we never will. For example, at my house we have grad students living next door to us. My wife and I have been stunned by how unfriendly they are when we pass in our back yards. But our son explained to us that they’re not being rude, they just don’t interact with people that way – the way that we do. They do it through technology. Our son understands this because he’s 21. And, at 21, he already feels a gap between himself and high school students!
The world is a very different place. Mass amateurization and collective wisdom (notice that the link I inserted above for explaining Web 2.0 goes to Wikipedia, a poster child for these changes) are replacing dedicated, authoritative (also, sometimes, authoritarian) sources for news. We are relying on the self-correcting collaboration of the masses for the dissemination of knowledge. And the centuries-old model of filter (e.g., evaluate for accuracy, relevancy, etc.) first and then publish has been turned on its head as the Web has become a medium in which we publish first then let external forces filter the information after the fact.
But back to Twitter. Who cares that you just left the coffee shop, or you’re going to get a haircut this afternoon, or you’re telling a snarky little in-joke that I don’t understand? I certainly don’t. But that’s just the point. I’m not supposed to. Those of us who don’t “get it” see all this as public communication. But it’s not. It’s just chatter among friends, across cyberspace instead of across a table, but not intended for those outside the small circle. And once you understand that – once you realize that even though this overwhelming barrage of messages is out there for all the world to see, they’re only meant for an infinitesimal, carefully selected group of people to actually look at – this whole thing starts to make sense as a way for a new generation to communicate. Those of us from the old school have been confused by thinking the medium is the message, but it’s not. The message is the message.
And this is just the insignificant beginning. Twitter is saving people who are unjustly imprisoned. Twitter is leading to election protests that stress entire governments. Twitter and the new organizing and communications power of Web 2.0 are changing the very framework of how society functions.
Don’t underestimate this, and don’t forget it. If you want your nonprofit to be meaningful in the future, Web 2.0 is one bandwagon (remember those? – I don’t!) you’d better figure out how to get on.