Shocks to the system

When the social web emerged sometime at the turn of the century, a new array of opportunities appeared for the creation of dynamic, collaborative and sociable learning environments - we now know it as social media. It wasn't simply blogs and wikis. Repurposing and remixing, mashups and aggregations of content became commonplace, and collaborative, community based spaces were populated with content that was ever shifting, never completed. This was a healthy movement in which anyone who was connected could participate, contribute and share.

However, a dilemma arose. Although by its very nature social media attracts activities that are essentially democratic and free, such freedom can also have the effect of opening the door to misuse and exploitation. Seemingly destructive elements may appear where the right to participate is abused, and where some members of a community can be maginalised or even excluded. I interviewed the well known futurist Gerd Leonhard at Learning Technologies in front of a large audience in 2015. Among other questions, I asked him for his views on Wikipedia. To my surprise Gerd was less than complementary. He said the system was flawed. He related the story how his page had been deleted from the 'open' online encyclopaedia, because a certain member of the 'Wiki Police' had deemed him 'not notable enough' to have his own Wikipedia page. It was an unfortunate situation that deprived a high profile champion of (ironically) technology, a space in which his work could be made more visible. That's what happens when supposedly democratic movements spawn individuals who self-assign to cast judgement on the work of others.

It's a shame the Wikipedia Police aren't more consistent in their actions. If Gerd doesn't deserve a page, then neither do several hundreds of others who currently have an entry. It gets worse. The Wiki wars that have been waged over certain pages - especially those with political and/or religious content - have causes several to be suspended, depriving readers of content they would find useful.

New technologies can be a shock to the system. Social media challenges and undermines institutional and organisational rules. These can be broken, causing subversion of previously long accepted practices. Ownership of content and intellectual property are just two of the areas that are impacted upon. Copyright is still a useful way to protect the work of authors, artists and musicians from misuse and theft. But this long established legal balwark is in danger of being eroded. We are on the edge of a new era where social media is undermining, challenging, and in some cases even supplanting old paradigms that have existed for years. We could compare those who resist these challenges to King Cnut commanding the tide to turn. It will be futile, but it will demonstrate that social media and the Web are a force of nature that won't be stopped. Many more shocks to the system are in store.

Image by Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

Creative Commons License
Shocks to the system by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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