Beyond the Nation-State and Social Media


It’s a recent phenomenon: social media is altering world history.  As the recent Iranian resistance from twittosphere has shown, as well as the recent events in China, Burma, Russia, Tunisia and Egypt resistance, not even the tightly drawn cloak of authoritarian regimes can regulate what seeps through the social web.  Just look at what Wikileaks is doing to open up once tightly withheld information, and ultimately, the political order.

Don Tapscott argues in Macrowikinomics, that we have entered the age of “beyond the nation state.”    Microfinancing, virtual activism, and global agenda partnerships via the social web are but a few developments that are breaking down the nation-state’s grip, and challenging the very notion of its importance to its citizens.  Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) are clearly gaining legitimacy and relevance, even by nation-states.   NGO’s have become effective change agents. And social media is only intensifying this change.

Vancouver-based HootSuite is one example of how social media is challenging the stronghold of the notion of the state.  In particular, social media  helping people in Egypt circumvent the government’s shutdown of the Internet.  Hootsuite, which offers social media portal feed for cross-posting to Twitter and Facebook, is reporting that signups are up sevenfold this month in Egypt, with the most from this past week of January — mostly from mobile devices.

The company, which offers users a social media dashboard for posting to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, reports that signups are up sevenfold this month in Egypt, with most in the past week and most from mobile devices.   Blocking Internet access and text messaging as well as Twitter and Facebook, the Egyptian government hasn’t deterred its people from going through proxy servers or using third-party applications like HootSuite and TweetDeck to voice their dissent.

Here’s something interesting: although HootSuite users who had already signed up before the Internet are being shut down in Egypt, they are still able to use the service as new users who must register a new account online at twitter.com.   Moreover, iPhone users can sign up for new HootSuite accounts through the mobile app.  From all the developments we’re witnessing about the transformational change social media has afforded us, it’s changing the course of history as well.   We’ll see more in the upcoming years ahead.

What Is Daedalus, Why Should We Care?

The Daedalus Project is something to keep an eye out for. Introducing Nick Yee, who just happens to be a research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Yee and his colleagues recently commenced a project to conduct a rather ambitious study of the World of Warcraft. In particular, they’re trying to find out what our behaviors in WoW reveal about who we are in Real Life.

Not surprisingly, this research has garnered great interest in the media. It’s become rather high profiled, you can say. With this grand project, in which the research into the psychology and sociology of MMORPGs integrated with the social media technology of gaming, it has collected survey data from over 40,000 game players. The research that has resulted from these interviews has been cited extensively by game scholars, game developers, and popular media, so much so that research has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and CNN International, among the number of media outlets.

Yee’s journey into the world of MMORPG’s began when he started researching EverQuest in 2000. Interestingly enough, Yee’s graduate work took him into the world of avatars, particularly how appearance of an avatar can change how the user behaves both inside and outside the virtual environment.

As he reveals in an example, in a:

series of several studies, we found that users in taller avatars negotiate more aggressively in the virtual environment and that this behavior carries over to other social interactions outside of the virtual environment. We dubbed this “the Proteus Effect”.

End of Creativity, the Rise of Social

In the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly, with the theme being 14 3/4 Biggest Ideas of the Year, Walter Kirn argues thanks to social media, boredom is close to extinction. Not only that,

But what else has been lost? Creativity, just maybe. Because when one thinks about the matter—though we really have no reason to think about the matter, or to think about anything since boredom disappeared—the keypad and the touch screen now do the work that used to be the business of the daydream. Remember daydreams? No, of course you don’t.

Kirn certainly makes some provoking thoughts here.  Yet, the tension between creativity and the rise of technology has always been at the forefront even since the days of the Gutenberg Press.   What I think we need to put in perspective are three crucial ideas in this discussion:

1.  Time – A Nielson survey revealed that 40% of online time is spent on just three activities — social networking, playing games and e-mailing — leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie. Americans today are spending nearly a quarter of their online time posting comments, pictures and video on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.   This doesn’t tell us the entire picture.  The television pie has been taken on by the social web.  Instead of watching series re-runs, audiences are watching 2-3 minute Youtube clips, shared Twitter links, and online music (downloading).  From the living room to the laptop, entertainment has become portable and mobile.   Is this a good thing?  That’s hard to say, considering experts have been battling this debate since the advent of radio and television.   What we can discern for sure is that although the medium might have changed, the content (education and entertainment) has not.

2.  Creativity – It would be premature to conclude that the artistic and scientific geniuses of the next generation are hindered by the Web.  On a digital level, mashups have allowed many to reuse and remix works of art, of content, and even data for purposes that usually are not intended or even imagined by the original creators. Steven Johnson has argued that the web has actually had the effect of “cognitive calisthenics.”  Despite every generation’s worry about technology —  the printing press, the telegraph, and the radio — the fact is that each generation became more efficient — if not intelligent —and being able to handle ever-more complex economic, social and knowledge practices.   As we really can’t measure individual ‘creativity’ quantitatively, what we can discern is that from the arts and sciences we’ve done quite well for ourselves.

3. Socializing- If social media has anything to do with it, the World Cup was all about socializing the experience of sports.  On Twitter, for instance, World Cup helped set a  a new Tweet record, when on June 24th during the Japan vs. Denmark match, 3,282 Tweets flew across the stream every second, beating the previous record by almost 200.  Although research has shown that teens spend much of their online, this online conversation has become a “third space” where youths congregate socially on the web on Facebook, MMOG’s, and texting.  Far from a isolation, the social web has extended and enriched the social process conversation, actually helping sustain many groups and building niche communities.   Technology provides access to communication — regardless if it’s 18th century letter writing or 21st century texting.