Social Impact of the Web: Society, Government and the Internet’.

Attended a free afternoon conference on riday at the RSA on ‘The Social Impact of the Web: Society, Government and the Internet‘.

An interesting afternoon. We had three panels discussing, and then answering questions on the topics of (i) Politics and the web; (ii) Web 2.0 and social innovation; and (iii) Does the web need a constitution.

Some good stuff.

Andrew Chadwick, Head, Department of Politics and International Relations and Director, New Political Communication Unit, Royal Holloway, University of London, laid out three things to celebrate and not to celebrate about the impact of web2.0 and the internet.

3 Good

Citizen Jounalism
Little Brother
Low Threshold – co-present/co-production

3 Bad

Production / Consumption divide
Shift to Video
Social Network Narcissism

The last point here is one I have some sympathy with, but didn’t think it covered the whole story. I certainly think people on social network sites that just want to collect as many ‘friends’ as possible just so they can show how ‘popular’ they are annoy me. But by the same token I agreed with MT Rainey (Hourses Mouth Foundation) who said that one of the positives of web2.0 was that it helped combine narcissism and altruism. I also liked MT’s idea of a ‘wisdomocracy’. We now use the web to pass on our knowledge, and no wisdom is wasted she said and what we were now seeing was the wisdom of crowds meets the kindness of strangers. A nice idea, and one her organisation certainly bares testimony to.

MT also expressed the view that online was increasingly where we define our personal identity – and far from this being a bad thing, it was actually something that turned customers/consumers back into real people.

The most anticipated talk f the day was that of Professor Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Dist. Service Prof. of Jurisprudence, Law School, Dept. of Political Science and the College, University of Chicago. He spoke on the issue of group polorisation and the negative effects that can have in trying to foster a sense of diversity, and asked whether online social networks served to foster or counteract this or not.

One thing that did come out of this was, something I am often conscious of doing when reading via rss, the idea of filtering what you read so far that you never encounter ideas that do not already fit your world view. I still buy newspapers for this reason and try not to filter out content from other people blogs etc as I feel that I miss that sense of serendipity that could lead me in a different direction and spark new ideas, thoughts.

This is not to say filtering is bad – I couldn’t fuction without it; but it is more a sense of never forgetting that I am doing it and the reasons why I am doing it.

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