Will 2010 be the new 1517?

Will 2010 be the new 1517?

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(this is my theme at TEDxPotomac.)

I've been looking for lessons from history regarding social media, and found a nerd/policy wonk partnership that was enormously successful.

Turns out, we had this nerd Johanness Gutenberg, who invented mass media, via the printing press, but it really didn't go anywhere for a long while. That's much like the Internet, was around decades before it really took off.

Later on, we had Martin Luther, who had some ideas and message that was potentially powerful, whether you agree or not. He used the press, and the Church store-and-forward network, and got his idea out, which created the Reformation, pretty effective.

That started in 1517 with his 95 Theses.

Power flowed from very narrow elites to a broader network of elites, that is, local churches and the grassroots, those who could read translated Bibles.

Also, Luther lost control of his message, resulting in broader networks propagating different versions of Luther's ideas.

We see the same thing now, particularly in US politics, where social networking has been used successfully. Consider the Obama campaign, also very recent effects of the netroots and the grassroots factions of the Tea Party movement.

A lot is happening in 2010, where political elites now realize the power of social media, and of its necessity. Social media can be used to drive "voter enthusiasm" and get people to vote, and now we see it's necessary.

However, social media is a grassroots thing, and we've seen in every case,  the grassroots takes control of the message, and the results aren't predictable.

That's happening now, and with near term efforts being built now, things will be very different in the November midterm elections. Looks like Big People will get behind grassroots networking, and the genie's already out of that bottle.

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5 Comments

Neil in Chicago

Get Elizabeth Eisenstein's book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.
Even used copies have gotten a little expensive, but it's still a great value.
(You can add science and nationalism to the Reformation.)

Roy Wells

Craig,
Excellent post. As social media opens more and more windows into the lives of public figures, they will begin to realize that they need to engage in the conversation and not hide from it. The more engaging the conversations become, the more likely that the public will shed it's apathy and engage.
In my opinion, web 2.0 communication channels can really open the door to eliminating apathy at the local level. Even if we do not have the local barbershop or corner drugstore conversations to be connected in our communities, local government fan pages and twitter accounts provide the 21st century store fronts for those conversations to occur. Politicians should embrace these technologies so that they can stay connected to the electorate. If they do not, the electorate will seek out those that they can connect with.

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Josh Wilson

At the risk of being too sweeping: I would propose that there's nothing new under the sun, that new media technologies help people do with media what they always have done with media, and that, therefore, the 95 Theses thesis :) you propose is extremely astute.
The only difference with new media tech is that people can do MORE of what they have always done, in an accelerated and massively contextualized environment.
I talk a little more about this on my blog: http://illuminated-media.org/?page_id=2
Note, for example, that Roy invokes the corner drugstore or barbershop. Precisely. There's nothing new under the sun here. We're talking about arenas of discourse. Whether it's virtual or IRL, it is still an arena for discourse, with historical precedent.
Neal Postman noted important patterns of media technology and civic/cultural participation in his landmark book, "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Written in the TV age, it noted the qualitative difference between discourse in a one-way medium (defined by television), and discourse using the more open typographic.
Looking at Postman’s work with the benefit of hindsight — which he might protest, were he alive — we can identify the Web as a return of the “typographic mind” that Postman celebrated.
We can also identify the typographic pre- and post-colonial era of America as characterized by the original media convergence of the printed page and the spoken word — the ongoing public dialogue carried on in the pamphlets, newspapers, Lyceums and Chautauquas of the age.
These days media convergence is a a text-meets-multimedia mashup of dialogue in an accelerated, hypercontextualized medium. The only way we’re going to understand it is to — sorry — go back to the future, and examine patterns of culture and media as they played out in previous historical eras.
So thanks for bringing that home with the examination of the 95 Theses and how that message disseminated and impacted culture and politics. FASCINATING STUFF!

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