How is the internet revolution changing us?

What do the following have in common: Obama’s election campaign, the Tea Party, flash mobs in Philadelphia, riots in the UK, and the Arab Spring in Egypt? Few think that social networking software caused these things. But many consider that this technology is enabling new social networks to emerge, linking people together in ways that challenge existing vested interests.

The technologies of social networking are having an impact like that of the technologies of printing that emerged in the 16th century. They are enabling networks to form around new kinds of social object. These networks are essentially heretical in nature – the historical parallel providing a way of appreciating the different nature of these social networks, networks that are affective because of the way they are based on a common attitude organized around a shared social object. [1,2] Whether ‘we’ are individuals or enterprises, the online, real-time, web-enabled experience is impacting on our relationship to an environment that is increasingly dynamic, fragmented and unfamiliar.

Affective networks may represent a means by which individuals can defend themselves from anxiety. They enable alliances to be made between like-minded people sharing common attitudes. [3]  The word “heretic” comes from the Greek, meaning “able to choose” – the Internet Revolution impacts on the individual’s ability to form networks in which s/he can say what s/he wants, both from the others in the network and from potential suppliers to the network. For suppliers, these affective networks can form markets exerting ‘pull’, demanding services dynamically aligned to the individual’s experience. [4] Such networks create new possibilities for collaboration and ‘co-creation’ in many different environments – local government, healthcare, business, community – while at the same time disrupting many existing industries.  [5] We are beginning to see a new kind of economics emerging based on economies of alignment.

The internet revolution is changing us, then, through providing a different basis for establishing mutuality and collaboration – centered less on a world of things and production as on a world of knowledge and shared interests.

[1]. The arguments in this blog are based on a chapter about to be published by Karnac: Boxer, P. J. (2011). The Twitter Revolution: how the internet has changed us. Psychoanalytic Reflections on a Changing World. H. Brunning. London, Karnac.
[2]. This is a reference to Freud’s third identification as forming the basis of these networks: Freud, S. (1921c). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Signmund Freud. J. Strachey. London, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. 18: 65-143
[3]. Jodi Dean locates these affective networks and their objects in the circuits of the Freudian Drive: Dean, J. (2010). Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive, Polity
[4]. Hagel III, J., J. Seely Brown, et al. (2010). The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. Philadelphia, Basic Books.
[5]. Ramaswamy, V. and F. Gouillart (2010). The Power of Co-Creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits. New York, Free Press.

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