Celebrating the Freedom to Connect

I’ve heard a lot about the social media revolution, this last year since I’ve been engaging in the blogosphere, and on Twitter. As the daughter of an American Revolutionary War historian—and living not far from Lexington and Concord, Ma—I have more of an appreciation and familiarity with revolutionary themes than most.

I still view Minuteman National Historical Park in Concord, MA, with the fondness of a childhood playground, as we often visited my Park Ranger father there, at work.

I remember especially well my parents waking up my brother and myself, in the middle of the night, on the eve of the American Bicentennial…I remember the crowds, the uniforms, the parades…I remember being dressed up as a young colonial, and the many snapshots of me that were taken that day—snapshots of “little Betsy Ross,” as one woman, visiting from France, happened to call me, in her lovely accented voice. Those snapshots are now possibly tucked away in dusty photo albums across the world—a time capsule of a shared American experience that still resonates for me, and for so many others in New England and beyond, when we come together each April to recall “the shot heard round the world.” Most of all, though I was only a child, I still remember the electric connection that I felt with everyone else that day who shared in our national celebration.

Minuteman Statue, April 19, 2010

This year, as we have on a few previous years, I wanted to share with my own kids the ideals, events, and sacrifice that we remember each year, on April 19th. We woke up about 4:00 a.m., and somehow found our way to what seemed like the only available parking spot in Lexington, MA. We watched the sunrise reenactment on Lexington Green, took a tour of Buckman Tavern, enjoyed a hearty pancake breakfast (sponsored by the Boy Scouts at the Church of St. Brigid’s), and attended a memorial service, at the grave of an unknown British soldier.

Then, we headed on over to down-town Concord, successfully navigating the many blocked roads, and again luckily finding parking. The highlight of the day, especially for my five-year-old son, was catching the stirring parade, full of Minutemen militia, British Redcoats, and all manner of honorable characters, who were returning from the Old North Bridge. We rounded out our day, with a visit to the Minuteman Statue, with my kids proudly being photographed there (as their childhood Mom had before them), only too happy to show off their recently acquired tricornered hats.

Welcome to the Social Media Revolution

So, what does this post have to do with social media? Why, everything, I think.

In the forward to Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah’s Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs, David Meerman Scott, bestselling author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, describes the nature of the social media revolution:

We’re living a revolution in the way people communicate. How did a relatively unknown, young, single-term senator with funny ears and a funnier name get elected President of the United States? Simple: He and his team understood the revolution and harnessed the power of the Web to communicate effectively with the masses… We’re living in a revolution in the way people find products and choose companies to do business with…We’re living a revolution where the companies that attract our attention are not the ones with big budgets and glitzy TV ads. Now we pay attention to the ones with great Web content…Inbound marketing is at the forefront of the revolution
(p. x111).

Radical or Revolutionary?

Minutemen Militia, Concord, MA

In the spirit of April 19th, here are thoughts on social media and democracy. Radical or revolutionary? You decide:

  • “When we change the way we communicate, we change society. Clay Shirky
  • “Social media is the democratization of information and the equalization of influence. Monologue gave way to dialogue and we the people ensured that our voices were not only heard, but felt.” Brian Solis
  • Groundswell: “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li
  • “Companies are in the midst of a social revolution–specifically, one being led by their customers and employees. The question becomes how do companies deal with it, but more importantly, how do they tap into the energy of potentially disruptive radicals and channel them into being revolutionaries who can lead positive, lasting change?” Charlene Li
  • “By requiring very little from each individual, the Web has made itself one of the most democratic tools for activism in history. Because we have access to so much right in front of us, we can help spread a message to thousands of people at once with only a click. We can donate a small amount of time or money and, with the help of a few thousand other people, dramatically impact politics or entertainment. We can make our views known more quickly, and with less effort, than ever before.” Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
  • “The freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly in cyber space.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

This post is part of my ongoing Live with Abundance: Social Media for Good series.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

4 thoughts on “Celebrating the Freedom to Connect

  1. Through the Internet the world has changed. In terms of the vastness of human history, we are just at the beginning of that change, so we do not know the ultimate result. Will we become like the Borg of Star Trek connected to a “hive mind” that assimilates everyone? Or will it offer us an opportunity to meet other people and understand who they are and accept them on their own terms… similar to Jake Sully in Avatar who was able to literally “walk a mile in another person’s shoes”? The level of intolerance and disrespect that I see in the mass media and on the Internet, make me fear for the “hive mind.” Hearing of ways in which commerce is using FaceBook and the fact that all “Tweets” have been donated to the Smithsonian for “analysis” reinforces the fear that the Internet can become “Big Brother.”

    On the other hand, when I can reach out and connect with family and friends across the world, and share ideas with people from very different backgrounds and with very different world views, I see the power for good.

    I hope, borrowing from science fiction again, that the Internet does not go to “the dark side.” That it evolves into a place of enlightenment which leads to better understand among people … rather than a place for intrusion and spying, and destruction of those who are alien to the “hive mind.”

    • Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for your detailed and insightful comment.

      Soon after I shared the link to this post with my personal network on Facebook, I found myself also warning my Facebook connections about the new FB privacy setting that is sharing our data with third-party applications, by default. Really tricking people, into sharing their information. I was irked to no end by FB’s total disregard for its users’ privacy, and saw the irony of my idealistic post, in light of this deliberate manipulation. There is nothing more contrary to the spirit of my post than that kind of deception. The moral of the story is to assume that anything you share online is public and to share accordingly.

      On the other hand, to cut ourselves off from the community and immediacy of the Web seems no solution. Our correspondence and deepening connection here and at our various online outposts, including Facebook, is just one example of the many positive outcomes I’ve experienced through the social web, not least of all, which is finding and exercising my authentic voice, in so public a place. And the power and liberation that comes with that! “A word, after a word, after a word is power,” as author Margaret Atwood says.

      I’ve just begun reading The Cluetrain Manifesto for the first time, and David Weinberger’s chapter on “The Longing” summarizes for me the siginificance of claiming our own voices, living authentically, and leveraging the transformative potential of the Web.

      Elsewhere in the Manifesto, the authors describe three perspectives on the Web—Utopian, Dystopian, and Realist.

      By nature, I suppose I am still the Betsy Ross of that Bicenntennial celebration, but experience has made me not as idealistic. I guess each of us needs to examine our own perspective and importantly, educate ourselves about ways to protect ourselves online, and examine the motives of those we are connecting with, or more importantly, of the platforms on which we share so much of ourselves. Then, individually decide what are the acceptable trade-offs.

      So, what about others dropping by?

      Is your view of the Web Utopian, Dystopian, or Realist? none of the above?

      Thanks, again, Margaret, for your thoughts.

  2. Thank you for responding, Peg. I vacillate between – wide-eyed, child-like amazement at everything that FaceBook, Google, YouTube and other Internet services can do – and – horrified fear at the way all these services can subvert individuality and morph us into a common world view, accepting only those ideas and persons deemed “acceptable” by a certain group. We see the best of the Internet when people of very different backgrounds and beliefs can become friends and come to know each other’s worlds a little better – we see the worst of the Internet when people are bullied and harassed into committing suicide. Or when the beliefs of one group of people are dismissed or ridiculed by another group of people. So, I guess my views are a combination of all three.

  3. Well, said, Margaret…The negative side you point is the other side of the same coin, I think—which is human nature. I’m not sure the Internet can be any more or less, than the collective “we” are. But it does give a voice to many—not all—but still many—who previously had none. That’s the part I celebrate the most, even if, as you note, there is plenty to fear…To me, though, the freedom to connect is always something to celebrate, not fear—it’s what people do with this freedom, or how they take advantage of others exercising this freedom, that I think is the problem…

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