Three amazing ways social media is changing the world

The more I am immersed in the culture of the social web, the more I am certain that it will not only change the world forever, it will change it for the better.  Specifically, there are three areas that energize and inspire me!

The democratization of opportunity

A few months ago I had the most uplifting talk with Xavier Damman, the mastermind behind Storify. As a teenager he started working on his idea for a new business by coding in his small apartment in Belgium. He didn’t have a formal education in building a business — in fact, he didn’t have any business experience at all!  So he just got to work, teaching himself how to code through free resources on the web and “googling” himself through any roadblocks he faced.

After months of faith and hard work, he had built a meaningful business, attracted Silicon Valley funding and was making his vision come true at the age of 22.

To me, this is so wonderful and amazing! When I was young, to start a business, you had to actually make something. You needed assets, funding and some way to tap into the traditional business infrastucture. Those business barriers have been destroyed, unleashing an unbelievable amount of inspiration and creativity.

coder dojo

Child learning coding at Coder Dojo

We’re in the first generation where our children are the experts. I recently visited a new free, global movement called Coder Dojo (post forthcoming!) that is teaching elementary school children how to create software and apps. This energy, this opportunity, can change the world. The future is something to be achieved, not just an inevitable result of your family’s economic conditions or the university you attended.

Economic power is shifting from those who control to those who share.

Social media as a global unifier

There are now close to 1 billion people registered on Facebook and half of them use it everyday. Research from The Social Habit shows in the sample surveyed, 80% of Americans between 12 and 24 have a Facebook account. Can you name any brand in history that has that kind of market penetration?

global digitalSo the world is slowly being unified in one small way through these social platforms. No matter our religion, economic status, political beliefs, or the color of our skin, the Net Generation loves to share favorite apps, complain when Twitter is down, and debate the latest Facebook innovation.

Of course there are still pockets that are left behind. Some people may simply be slower adopters of technology. Some regions of the world may not yet have access to the Internet or oppressive governments limit their citizens ability to connect.  But this is changing. The debate is now turning toward the consideration of access to the Internet as a basic human right. Think about the power of that! Could there be a day in our future where nearly every person on earth is united by this pulsing, creative, liberating beam of electrons?

Yes, the social web is filled with spammers and cat jokes but let’s not take for granted how far we have come in connecting global voices in such a short period of time!

The hive of solutions

The social web gives me hope for true, meaningful progress on difficult global issues and re-building a better world.

One only needs to look at the mess that is Washington DC to realize that millions of people are needlessly suffering because of political rancor. In general, our universities reward professors for consistency and longevity instead of flexibility and innovation. Many of our largest and most important companies are straining to remain relevant in a digital world through leaders who cannot open a Twitter account. None of these traditional sources of problem-solving and power can keep up with and respond to the pace of the world today.

network of ideasThankfully, there is another option — our collective, networked intelligence. Perhaps our most glorious hope is that the social web can self-organize to solve problems. The web is clumping into hives of experts who are organized by the problems themselves instead of company silos, national boundaries, or political appointment.

Innovation, education, solutions for urban decay, international diplomacy, health issues, cracking highly complex technical problems — almost every significant human problem is being debated and, and I believe, will eventually be solved by passionate experts wherever they live.

Civilization is being rebuilt through networked intelligence.  We are being mobilized and we are all on the same side — a better world.

Do you share my joy and hope of the possibilities before us?

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  • What a positive and wonderful post. yes indeed I definitely share the belief that the integration of social into “the internet” has changed many things. What I find interesting is that this change started as internet became accessible to more and more people, giving the incredible access to information and global communication. The evolution from that into online social behavior rather than just research has been truly wonderful. People are more connected with family now than ever before (via sites, as you say, like Facebook) – in any time or age, the ability for people to exist in supported communities has always proven beneficial. The possibility right now reminds me of Galdwell’s story of the town of Roseto. In “The Roseto Mystery” from Outliers. People need support, communication, dialogue. I really believe with these things people thrive.

    Add to this the open structure where now anyone can share and connect, the possibilities are truly endless. I see it as a celebration of humanity.

    Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I truly believe that the more people can reach each other, share ideas, support each other, the more successful they will be.

    Naturally for business this personal use has opened doors for marketing opportunities that never previously existed, in addition new standards of service for those companies that dare put themselves in the social space. It’s the beginning, and my hope is that this will bring business back to a human level (accountability, standards, etc.) and that people will continue to be empowered and grow, by connecting, expression, and idea generation.

    I’ve referred to this time as a rebirth in my own posts, you’ve captured this positivity I see in your own post here 🙂 Great times! Thank you for the positive article. Loved it!

  • Thanks for the support, energy and optimism Mila!

  • I don’t even think we’ve begun to scratch the scratch of the scratch of the surface of possibilities that lie before us with digital media (including social media).

    For example… wait until something like “voice to Tweet” technology comes available… for example, we could be in the middle of an activist movement or other social event, and say a certain string of commands that log us in to our Twitter account, speak a tweet, which gets posted to Twitter… and get others involved that all can do the same thing.

    The device won’t even be a mobile phone then… it will be an ear piece, the screen could be anything etc…

    And that would be my vision of scratching the surface… and the possibilities are exciting… so long as this connectedness doesn’t run our lives, and instead we use it to more effectively engage with each other in a human capacity.

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  • Agree Joseph. Interesting times ahead!

  • These are changing times and we are just beginning to explore all the opportunities the social revolution is bringing. Just look how social relations, news consumption, entertainment etc have evolved in just a few years. Yes, exciting times are in front of us!

  • Thanks Fabio. All good points. I could have made this a very, very long article listing all the possibilities! : )

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  • Can you name any product in history that has that kind of market penetration?

    Yes – Bread, Housing, Electricity – I guess this makes your point very clearly !

    Facebook appears to have become to many “indispensable” – however, the popularity of the products above will endure a little longer !

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  • Yes, yes, and yes!

    Social Media has, and will continue to build a collective intelligence that is so much stronger than one singular voice. Never before could we debate, pontificate and collaborate the way we do online. The examples of opportunity are endless, and storify is a great illustration of the American (now global) dream! Thanks for sharing this, Mark.

  • Fair point, James, but my only question is this:

    Are those above mentioned items bringing people together and contributing to the perpetual human growth like social media does?

  • Kent

    It maybe too early to say that social media good for the world. Because social media makes people getting impatient,makes people feel lonely (alone together), etc. Some psychologists suggest that using too much social media is not good for human relationship. We need to balance our lives.

  • @kwiqly:disqus I meant to write “brand” instead of “product.” I’ll change it. Point well taken.

  • You’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time to comment Tony.

  • Yes, i have written about that too. Very valid points. Today, though, I felt optimistic. : )

  • Sorry Tony – but that’s a slightly backward question:)

    Coming together to “break bread” – IS social

    Face-to-face or IRL is and always be the ultimate social intimacy!

    Introducing friend over a beer IS discovery.

    Doing so as a guest to a buildings is the first and best hospitality.

    When you can log into a social app and say honestly – It was like being there – THEN you have social media.

    Until then a lovers kiss or a bar brawl will remain true expressions of social interaction – forget these and you lose the plot !

    Everything else is pretence – mere reflections of the better reality.

  • Very interesting post! I share your optimism, but many call me Pollyanna, so I try to temper that a little. Solutions that are not skewed by politics, religion or business decisions would indeed be wonderful. It’s so hard to understand why these solutions are not made now, purely for the purpose of solving a problem. What is so difficult about that? I have never understood why we can’t all try to make life richer, easier and better for everyone. We all have the same goal, so why can’t we get there? I’m afraid the mess in Washington may ooze into all of this somehow, because people and groups seem to somehow put “power grab” into the mix. But I like how you think!

  • We can all hope, right? I’m optimistic because i really see this happening. The Internet hive can move faster than any bureaucracy! Thanks for commenting Kathy.

  • Cool – Good article in any event 😉

  • Great synopsis. 3 times Yes.

    If I may add to it (and perhaps related to your 2nd point on global unification), I think that Transparency is also a key element that the social web is enabling at big scales. The open checks and balances that social media and social networks provide is a lever that is unstoppable, in business, life and government.

  • That is certainly the case. It’s a terrible time to be a control freak! : )

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  • I love this post Mark! Really hits the spot. I have such a great vision of social media and how it will revolutionize the world for the better, and it’s nice that I’m not the only one who believes in too.

    The greatest thing I see with social media is how it humanizes other people. We talk about humanizing brands, but what about humanizing other people? Because of stereotypes, misinformation, deception for political purposes, and overall cultural ignorance, we tend to forget how human other people are. But social media allows us to connect with people all of over the world. It shows how real their struggle is, and how they value the very same things we do – family friends and simple fun. I sometimes explore different hashtags on Instagram to see what people in countries like Palestine are taking photos of. There’s some political messages here and there, but mostly it’s just people taking pictures of their friends, playing around, showing off their latest computer equipment. I think we forget how same we all are and social media is allowing us to connect directly to each other.

    This connection has tremendous benefits. It’ll make us more informed, less prone to fear-mongering; it’ll help us share ideas better; maybe it can even increase people’s volunteer rates. We’ll learn about each other and through that, we will better learn about ourselves, our limitations, our hopes, and dreams.

    I also love the point you brought up about the Internet as a human right. I wholeheartedly believe that it should be a right. When some governments are cutting off access to the rest of the world by cutting off the Internet to remain in power, then you know the Internet is the best tool those people have. When the Internet becomes a way to start, fuel, or spread protest, then you know it’s a human right for their freedom, education, and privacy.

    I think understanding the true power and potential of the Internet is the first step in realizing said potential. One day we will see a better brighter world.

  • Hi Mark

    Just read your blog above – so insightful – you always give so much more and with a different perspective than any other social media commentator I’ve come across – you definitely make me hopeful!
    Best regards
    Barbara Ann

  • “the web is clumping into hives of experts who are organized by the problems themselves instead of company silos, national boundaries, or political appointment.” I think this is spot on and we can already see some of its effects in developing countries and even here in North America. Great post Mark!!

  • Very thought-provoking comment. It made me think of something. I was recently reading the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell (recommend) and he gives some astounding examples of the radical differences in human communications across cultures. So something somebody in NYC would view as normal communications could be viewed by somebody from South America as highly offensive. As the world comes together through the social web, how many times are we offending somebody and not even knowing it? I think there is a danger in creating conflict through the simplistic communication shannels of the web, too. Anyway, you got me thinking : )

  • Barbara that is so very kind of you to say. Thank you for taking the time to let me know that you enjoy the blog. Much appreciated!

  • Yes, I am especially loving the way people are turning to the web and apps to solve problems in “Third World” countries. What an explosion of creativity and inspiration! It does give you hope. Thanks, as always, Abdallah!

  • And your reply got me thinking too 🙂 While I definitely hear what you’re saying, I think this diffusion of communication and hidden meaning will lead to a decrease in unintentional offense. Two reasons:

    1) the web has it’s own rules and language. while cultural factors certainly play a large role in how we communicate online, most of the inside communication is built around unique online things. Memes, GIFs, and the like are only understood online and not in person (this also explains why different networks have their own etiquette and rules).

    2) Talking to so many other people, you eventually realize that you could be offensive to someone else. I feel like the community will step up to denounce any intentional insult, but will also defend a person if they didn’t know they were being offensive. After some time, people will realize that their cultural norms are just that, cultural. If someone doesn’t know about it, getting offended won’t help. Instead, you teach others. Maybe I’m being naive, but eventually I think we can all educate ourselves on these differences. Maybe the road will be rocky for the first 5 years as the whole world gets online, but eventually (hopefully) people will appreciate each other’s differences without holding them to their standard and what not. I hope I don’t sound too idealistic here lol.

  • Very, very interesting ideas Pavel.

  • Luca

    I like your vision Mark. To me there are several things which are particularly true. Indeed, thanks to the web, you can build and grow a business with only few resources… Even though it remains a tough task. And, indeed, the web 2.0 is extremely powerful to unify people, access information, find solutions… I really believe it can change the world for better. With a couple of guys, we created a start-up, Novertur (www.novertur.com), which aim is to participate in this progress for a better world…

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  • Great post. I agree that the Internet should be a basic human right, and alongside that every child should be taught basic programming principles as a standard form of education.

    I was only thinking today why do such important matters as public health policies get hidden away on some bureaucrats desk. Instead the data and metrics which are informing the politicians on their decisions should also be made publicly accessible as xml streams which can then be interpreted and assess by the public. Then the public can begin making crowd based decisions which are the most efficient and effective for everyone.

    Holding our first annual #dojocon in a few hours. Perhaps you would like to hookup to the google hangout at http://coderdojo.com/hangout or just generally retweet 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing Luca.

  • Actually, there is a lot more of this openness in the U.S. government these days. There is a massive push to opening up information and resources. Thanks for stopping by friend!

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  • 3 excellent points. Thanks for being such a drumbeater for a new world, Mark. These changes are evident in Africa, where I live and work. I am full of hope for the change in society they’ll bring.

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  • Apart from the ‘donate’ part, I think this is a good example of how people can, through social, demystify the ‘other’ and counteract the way governments/corporations/intelligence agencies/etc generally demonise the ‘other’ for their own political agendas. http://www.youtube.com/embed/I6sPCSJu31U?rel=0

  • The whole subject of social ‘activism’ and ’cause’ marketing is fascinating to me. I haven’t done enough research to be completely uncynical (thanks Kony2012!) about the motives and behind the scenes workings of these kinds of ’cause’ entities but their rise and proliferation is impossible to miss. I’m thinking avaaz.com, causes.com (which is using Facebook to recruit people to lobby against Facebook), Justgiving, CrowdRise, and 20 odd similar companies. Do you think they’re a fad, a politico-marketing tool or a manifestation of people’s desire to use the internet to 1) be empowered 2) make the world better?

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