There is plenty of room for people to do new and creative things on the internet. We need more people who are engaged with other people in a meaningful way. In the 1990's we expected that a cyber community would develop, and Howard Rheingold wrote "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution" and pointed to a cooperative community process on the Internet. He expected the peer to peer part of the internet would grow and develop as virtual communities.
But in fact community development hasn't happened in the way anyone anticipated. None of the cyber-places hoping to develop "community" based on membership loyalty have been successful. None of the efforts to make local communities more connected by using the internet have succeeded either. Attempts to develop local communities online seem to have failed everywhere
There have been some brave attempts to create "online communities" with GeoCities being notable. (2012: A link to GeoCities has been removed, it no longer exists.) Yahoo Groups is another survivor from the early days of the internet. New comers are social places like "My Space" and many other sites that mainly focus on dating. There are also business focused social spaces like "Xing" and "Ryze". (2012: Ryze still struggles on, but is a shadow of it's former self.) (There are 100+ others) Perhaps slightly different is "Linked In" which is more like a yellow pages for personal CV's. (2012: LinkedIn has developed to be much more than that.)
We might also note here the success of certain ideas that were promoted on the internet. Most notable is the
"Cluetrain Manifesto" but also many other documents like for instance
"The Earth Charter".
The core question facing the world is the ability to speak honestly with each other. If that doesn't exist then any notion of an information society is lost. Can we avoid deception and take the risk of sustaining the truth in our dealings with each other? This is a community issue.
A scientist who is found to have falsified his research data and published misleading papers has committed a serious offense and would lose his rights as a professional. An information society can demand no lesser standard from all it's professionals including it's businessmen and it's politicians.
If we are all members of a common humanity, the pollution of our thinking processes by lies and propaganda is a crime against us all. Such acts dishonor us as members and destroy the trust on which the future must be built. People generally exercise remarkable tolerance and restraint in their online behaviour. That tells us a good deal about the online motives of most people.
Honest sharing of information across the world is critical to a better future. New understandings that are produced by quality information create a demand for action. Such action now being demanded from international institutions and from governments, is frequently the very action that in the past has usually been successfully avoided. Powerful elite's often benefit from the status quo. Change is normally resisted and opposed.
For instance fraud in election processes is now usually exposed. Even in the USA, the election process seems to be very untidy in places, perhaps deliberately so. Maybe the last two USA Presidential elections were stolen. There's a history of that going back a century or more. It doesn't seem to concern the politicians themselves. The best evidence I've seen that something strange happened in the 2004 Presidential election is this.
PhD Students in Ohio have reported that because of the long lines waiting to vote, many thousands gave up the wait and went home or back to work. But hundreds of thousands of people after waiting 3-6 hours in line did get to vote. Strangely after all that effort many thousands, apparently failed to cast a vote of any kind for any Presidential Candidate. Why? How come? Nobody was asking that question on election night. No satisfactory answer has been offered for the surprising "nil vote".
Sadly we don't yet live in an information society. We live in a society that too often agrees to ignore the information, a society that constructs a fabric of mis-information or dis-information and agrees to call it "truth" if it helps us to gain some narrow advantage. We live in a society facing serious problems; that continues to avoid the issue and calls that game business or politics.
We live in a society where our leaders say they will do things they have no intention of doing, and where they do things they swear they did not do, and could never do. it's impossible to live in an information society when those we are supposed to trust are themselves unreliable sources of information. Such behavior is not only unbecoming in a political leader, and it's also destructive of community values.
Such behavior pollutes the public mind-space and misdirects the attention people give to what's happening. Such behavior is a crime against us all. It demands our attention and our energy. We spend our resources fighting shadows, while the opportunity to do things we should be doing drifts away. Betrayal by the short sightedness and entrenched bias of those we chose to be our leaders is a burden we do not expect.
Of course it can be argued that every community gets the leadership it deserves. I would argue that in every nation there is pressure for change that is driven by modern access to better information. This will create an irresistible pressure for changes in business, in public institutions and in government.
Even in the USA where the internet is most readily available, newspapers, television stations and the political parties try to proceed as though people don't have access to good information. Traditional media has massive influence still. It's a megaphone for those who have held traditional forms of power.
Events leading up to the war in Iraq, show that propaganda is more powerful than good evidence. Look beyond the news stories, at the conversations happening on the internet. Among those who wanted to know, the evidence was clear and plain. People are better informed than our leaders seem to understand. Even so, the social and political skills to make effective use of the contrary information that was online couldn't be mustered.
Peer to peer networks are distinctly different from traditional media. There is a message, but there is also a possibility of effective reply. Traditional media like television, radio and newspapers don't engage their audience as strongly. People using traditional media tend to passively attend to the message. They may not be well informed at all.
Sadly to be connected to modern media is to become a target for propaganda. Hence the plea for freedom of personal peer to peer communication, in every country. Let people learn about the world from each other. If my friend tries to indoctrinate me with some propaganda he ceases to be my friend. Businesses or governments may chose to "spin" the truth, but my friends never do.
Here's a contrast. Newspapers and television stations, particularly in the USA but also across the world were very happy to broadcast the calls of GW Bush and Tony Blair for a war against Iraq. They accepted the propaganda without question and became willing accomplices in the disinformation process that was occurring.
On the other hand at the BBC, one Andrew Gilligan told the world that the government had "sexed up" the intelligence about Iraq. His report was wrong in some very minor detail and he lost his job. A highly respected British scientist, Dr David Kelly, who had been involved in Iraq, told more of the truth than he was expected to utter.
The governments case for war was tarnished and Kelly was attacked and hounded by the government, which made his name public. Distressed, Dr Kelly apparently took his own life. An enquiry by Lord Hutton blamed the BBC. Because of political pressure the Director General of the BBC was forced to resign.
In the peer to peer world of the internet, while there was strong debate, the sort of misrepresentation that was occurring in the mainstream media wasn't generally being accepted. Kelly was seen as a truth teller. Andrew Gilligan was seen as over-enthusiastic but doing his best ot get an important story out. Lord Hutton as the trusted peer who would deliver a whitewash to protect his political masters. The BBC as another unfortunate victim of bad public process.
In Russia during May, 2005, there was a Social Forum, modeled on the events of the same name held in Brazil, India and many other countries in the last few years. There was no official support for this forum. There was no money for it. The fact that it was to happen wasn't reported in the newspapers or on television.
It was organized peer to peer across the internet, and 1000 people turned up. They had all sorts of problems. Apparently, they couldn't agree among themselves, but it's not any wonder. The organization that over time that might make general agreements possible hasn't had a chance to develop. Open communication sets an agenda for transferring ideas and aspirations. If change is needed, change will appear on that agenda. That creates uncertainty in changing times, but it also offers us all exciting opportunities.