Reflections on what might have been
What comes first the business magnate or the politician? Does success in one field naturally lead to an involvement in the other? I ask this because I’m fascinated by the parade of successful business leaders entering Ten Downing Street (sometimes by the back door) and I can understand the desire of Governments to court investment and expertise. I am disturbed, however, when the pronouncements of the business world both in private and public emerge as political rhetoric and public policy.
Politics, Technology and The Internet are conjoined and difficult to separate. I imagine most people who read this blog will know Joe Trippi’s “The Revolution Will Not be Televised Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything” and “Learning from Obama” by Colin Delany. As nothing succeeds like success we are accustomed to receiving our political messages through a range of media; witness the successful use of Social Media by the Labour MP Tom Watson.
There is the promise of the empowered masses as set out in “Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens when people Come Together” by Clay Shirky and “We Think: Mass innovation, not mass production” by Charles Leadbeater. The Arab Spring is held aloft as an example of populations engaged, empowered and active in establishing democracy with the help of social media sharing.
What happens when these two ends of the political spectrum become entwined; when the successful business leader seeks to influence government and promotes the ideas through those channels of influence? You may endorse the meritocracy and argue that it’s a natural progression but I find myself thinking: “I didn’t vote for that; did you?”
As a case in point Marc Zuckerberg recently launched FWD.us a lobby group promoting immigration reform in the US. This group has the support of some high profile tech names not least Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in addition to Marissa Mayer and Eric Schmidt. FWD.us has come in for some criticism not least from Om Malik founder of GigaOm who has questioned the objectives and reasoning of the organsiation in terms of its underlying philosophy and its suitability to take a political stance, not least on the thorny subject of immigration. He questions Zuckerberg’s standing on privacy he also questions the perceptions of the supporting Silicon Valley crowd.
Steve Lehar has written about whether the world we see is real or simply a copy created by our brain in “The World in Your Head: A Gestalt View of the Mechanism of Conscious Experience” This idea of a perception bubble is used to describe a situation where people become disconnected from the real world and they see it in terms of the shared values of themselves and their close circle. An example would be the people we choose to follow on Twitter or Facebook because they reaffirm our beliefs about the world in which we live; those who don’t we choose to ignore. There’s an interesting piece on Gigaom Research by Derrick Harris.
So what! I hear you shout. Well The New York Times highlighted recently FWD.us has run into trouble already: Its subsidiaries have taken a swipe at Obama’s Healthcare strategy and has promoted a controversial oil pipeline currently attracting environmental objections. I can understand if people write this off as an American phenomena but I’m not so sure. In 2011 Eric Schmidt made a quiet entrance to Downing Street to “talk business with the Government” the discussions reportedly involved economic growth in the UK and the role technology could play. Shortly thereafter Schmidt gave a speech on the importance of developing programming skills in school age children in preparation for the future. On the face of it you can’t argue with that and I for one would subscribe to the inclusion of programming skills in a National Curriculum. However, move forward a little over 12 months and we get: “Coding essential to future curriculum, says Michael Gove” A Speech by the Education Secretary following the government’s ditching of the national curriculum programme for ICT. The speech included the quote: ““For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate,” said Gove. Having spent many years working in the field of digital inclusion I have all sorts of questions about “digital natives” and the speaking of “fluent technology” by young people across the spectrum. In asking those questions I am mindful of other thinkers in the world of digital society such as Sherry Turkle in “Alone Together”, Evgeny Morozov “The Net Delusion” and Jarond Lanier “You Are Not A Gadget”. An education for a digital age is more than an ability to programme.
Do we draw a red line and say thus far and no further? Where do we draw that line? Maybe we should look out of our perception bubbles and see where we are in relation to the real world. I’m curious as to what FWD.us means; is a shortening of Forward or does it stand for Facebook World Domination? Probably neither but it does make you think doesn’t it?