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Real World Effects of User Generated Content: 1

September 4, 2010 2 comments

One of the most common and popular belief that hinders a change in the status quo is-

One person, or a few people, cannot change things.

This statement is however only partially correct. It is therefore important to understand contexts in which this statement holds and those in which it is incorrect.

The idea that one person, or a few people, cannot change the status quo is true in one type of confrontation- a full frontal engagement. If you engage your enemy, exploiter or adversary in an open and frontal assault- some combination of luck, superior numbers, resources and overt technological advantages will win, irrespective of ideology. A war with few large battles favors the powers-to-be (PTB).

However, if the confrontation is not acute and overt- combinations of luck, numbers, resources and overt technological advantage cannot secure a lasting victory. It is possible to win every battle and still lose the war, especially if the engagement is a series of small non-overt battles.

The difference between victory and defeat in a long war rest on feedback, or more precisely- how each side handles and responds to feedback.

All complex systems, from living systems to civilizations, can survive only as long as the ‘good’ feedback loops can prevent the ‘bad’ feedback loops from overwhelming and destroying the integrity of the system. Note that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are relative terms as neither are good or evil in the conventional sense.

So how does this tie in with ‘user generated content’ and the stability or direction of human civilization?

The word ‘user generated content’ is actually a misnomer used to help you understand what i am really talking about- how ‘individual’ ideas by non-mainstream sources are far more powerful than most of you realize.

Consider the three major monotheistic religions- one was started by a guy who heard voices in a burning bush, another by a reformist rabbi and the last by a guy who heard voices in his head. I am not suggesting that every person who has a novel idea will succeed even if it is very good. However every major idea that has changed the course of human history was started by a guy who was not part of the “establishment” of his era. This is true in fields ranging from religion to science and philosophy and is related to the nature of innovation- something that I have touched on in previous posts.

To repeat it briefly- innovation occurs when a guy sees something that nobody else has seen or documented before. The key to making innovation work is communicating that novel viewpoint to others who are willing to listen. Most people are too comfortable in their shitty reality to bother with viewpoints that challenge their world view. However every group has malcontents who are looking for answers beyond the official explanations. It is this sub-group that every innovator must identify and target.

Change occurs when enough malcontents and secondary converts refuse to care about the old-established way or act in bad faith towards it resulting in an accelerating spiral of system malfunction that causes it to implode. It is about creating a critical mass of malcontents.

So how does ‘user generated content’ play into creating a critical mass of malcontents?

Consider the effect of movable type printing on the world. Though the first book printed with movable type was the bible, the new technology quickly became the method of choice for spreading new ideas and concepts. Almost every idea popularized since the inception of printing REQUIRED it to spread and replace older ideas.

It also democratized the spread of ideas. Previously the powers-to-be of that era were the only source of widespread ideas, and since ideas were spread by the mouth or written word- they could be controlled far more than in the era of the printed word. It is no coincidence that stalin and many east-European dictators required their subjects to have a license for owning a type writer, and china still spends a lot of money to ‘protect’ its people from “evil” ideas on the internet.

The internet, in both its static and mobile form, take this democratization of creation and spread of new ideas to the next level. Creating a properly formatted and easily transmitted document is almost free (open office, webmail, FB, Twitter etc) as is expressing your views is an audiovisual form- one of those “tubes” or even your personally hosted video stream. Tools for creating and editing audio-visual content are also easily accessible and inexpensive. Bulletin boards and various other types of social media also make spreading ideas far easier than in any previous era- even the one our patents grew up in. The mobile version of the web (smartphone accessed) has now reached a level of maturity and access that make it a viable outlet and impact multiplier for new ideas.

In the next part of this series, I will talk about why ‘user generated’ content is far more effective for spreading ideas than it ever was and why it is so hard for the powers-to-be (PTB) to do anything about it.