Forget blogs!

Some people would
like to forget blogs, but my point is blogging is only the most recent
incarnation of something much bigger—P2P. Blogs will certainly morph into
something else—indeed, that’s happening as we speak—but what won’t
change is the underlying sociological change of person-to-person (P2P)
communication. The technologies of nearly-free, universal access to tools
enabling people to find others with common interests and to communicate with
them are not at all at their height.

The big changes swirling around us are coming from the fact that
when people are able to communicate they tend to coordinate, collaborate, and
take action together. In the 20th century we created large
institutions that provided the infrastructure and managed the direction for the
persistent, concerted action of many people. What seems to be happening in
today’s P2P world is that people are using ever-evolving social software tools
to empower a level of aligned activity that was not possible before outside of
well-organized institutions. This is a whole new social step equivalent to
other great jumps in communication and interaction.

 

It would be rash to suggest the imminent demise of
institutions, but they are to be jointed by vigorous and diverse forms of ad
hoc, perhaps temporary action networks. The question institutions have to ask
themselves is whether they enhance getting things done or hinder it with their
traditional structure and controls. A lot of people these days seem to be
satisfied to be freelancers and independents. Ed Dukes’ post about “unaligned
volunteers” made me begin thinking that perhaps the freelancing bloggers who
strike fear in the hearts of the communications industry might also be showing
similar tendencies in organizations such as volunteer agencies. Some years ago
we began to notice that volunteers were tending to be “episodic”—interested in
temporary volunteer assignments—in contrast to the more traditional lifelong
volunteer. That evidently is shifting again to people who involve themselves in
things that interest them and are geared to accomplish something meaningful to
them pretty quickly.

The underlying driver of social software is the “social”
part, not the technology. The blogging phenomenon indicates that there are a
hell of a lot of people who have something to say to whomever will listen.
Generally people haven’t had access to enough channels to give widespread
expression a shot before. The nature of expensive communications technologies
restricted most expression to a few channels controlled by professionals and
driven to give ROI.

That’s what’s changing so dramatically. With the Net we
don’t have to get permission; we don’t have to fit into a slice of scarce
airtime; we don’t have to pass somebody else’s standards to have our say—a
feature that some people find regrettable. And our way of saying things can
take different forms: writing, obviously, but also pictures, videos, and music.
One possible outcome of the battle over control of file sharing might be the rebirth of
amateur entertainment. There was a time when more people played their
own instruments and sang their own songs. The rise of entertainment “stars” was
a product of the expensive media of the 20th century. At the very
least, the field will be open to a much greater range of people and some will
offer to entertain the rest of us by putting their efforts out free into the
commons. (The thousands of people who flock to “American Idol” auditions
suggests that there’s no shortage of people with the entertainment urge—or
maybe no shortage of people who want to be “idolized.” I suspect that they will
play out their ambitions over digital network media soon and the global public
will make their own judgments instead of Randy, Paula and Simon.)

As if to confirm this notion, on this morning’s CBS Sunday
Morning Show, this being Mother’s Day, they had a humor piece on mom rock
bands. It turns out that there are 200 bands in the US comprised of women who
are pretty much typical full-time mothers—soccer-rockers. Well, maybe not
“typical.”  They featured The Candy
Band: four women, all with a clutch of young kids. They sing nursery rhymes set
to a Led Zeppelin-like driving beat. Of course, here’s their blog.

To me the most interesting aspect of digital
communication technology is its transformative impact on social structure. Our
social structure has always developed institutions that reflect the limits of communications. Until the 20th century social institutions
almost had to be based on the physical community because, to work in unison, people
had to communicate largely face-to-face. But all the communications and
transportation technologies of the 20th century relentlessly
expanded the range or cooperation and, at the same time, reduced the cost of,
practical, repeated interaction

The current digital system, i.e., the internet, is a huge leap in speed, access,
and cost reduction in communication. So-called “social software” is just
hardware/software combinations designed with a lot of conveniences built in.
And the indication that utilities for that basic function will be built into
future PC OSes like Longhorn means the convenience, versatility and cost
reduction will continue. With that, whole new levels of social interaction and
social collaboration will be possible—indeed, commonplace.

So the question is, how should institutions structured
around physical proximity respond? The ACS has been significantly altered in my
three-decade career by communications. When I started we had boards of
directors in each county, in each community. But back then we were using
typewriters and US mail for basic business communication. It took nearly a
workweek for turnaround on a memorandum. Communication speed has moved rapidly
upward, first with FedEx, then fax, and now email. Along with that, the central
significance of the local community and its decision-making has diminished. Now
we’re “one ACS” with nearly instant nationwide communication that soon will be
global.

Thought questions come to mind:

  • How do we incorporate the virtual communities possible
    through social software like blogs, Meet-ups, social network groups? They’re
    out there but not organized or recognized. For instance, I think there’s a “community” of
    Relay bloggers.

  • How do we make the network of communications more vibrant?
    As the Relay blogs have indicated, people out there are communicating over the
    synaptic network about Relays and that could and should be part of the
    communications and awareness aura of the ACS. Building a blog system seems to
    me like the pointillist painters: each point isn’t very significant but when
    you put them all together, voila, you have a painting.

  • How do we make the processes of the organization (still
    based on the hierarchy and chain of command that resembles the ACS of 30 years
    ago) more responsive to the accelerated pace of social systems empowered by new
    technology?

  • How long does it make sense to make the brand of the Cancer
    Society America-centric? Shouldn’t Vision 2020 be about global cancer control,
    at least in part? I hear this is already a discussion topic in some circles.

Oh, be sure to hug your mom today. I still remember and love
mine.

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