Who couldn’t fail to be moved and inspired by the young people organising themselves after the Parkland massacre? I have just been in san francisco and on every news channel and in every paper is commentary on how these brave resilient students are filling in the gap in the absence of political action. To them, born into the age of the internet, organising and building something using the tools of the modern age is second nature. As someone who started work at a time when building brands or attention was done via tv, it still takes my breath away how quickly things have changed.
An ability to build networks and to use them effectively has always been one of the key routes to get things done – as an entrepreneur, activist, leader. It is only now, in part due to the incredible innovations that the people around that small Bay Area of the west coast have built, that networks and ideas can spread like wildfire around the globe.
#timesup #metoo #blacklivesmatter or in the uk the campaign to get a statue of millicent fawcett in Parliament square or to get a woman on a bank note were amplified and helped immeasurably by social media.
When starting my role in 2009 as UK Digital Champion, I was turbo charged using Twitter to find out what was happening all over the country and make connections with people I would not otherwise have come across. The instant access networks gave me to brains and experience was invaluable.
On a lighter note, I’ll never forget when my father lost his manuscript for a new book on the bus and someone found me on Facebook and then Twitter and returned it. Totally unbelievable – months and months of work would have been lost, as, ironically, my pa writes on actual paper.
There can be hazards too – I found out to my cost about one of them recently. An an ex-assistant “bought” some reach for me online – not something i would ever condone or recommend. She thought she was buying targeted people for content and that this would be a good way to get my blogs etc out there. But that was not the case. Not many of those were real people and definitely none were interested in me! I mention this because it highlights how essential authenticity is when building networks for anything, there are no shortcuts. Credibility is all – look at how Emma Gonzalez, the magnificent student has amassed more followers than the NRA in just two weeks – she is her fearless self and people want to listen.
It can be easy to bash the digital world we now inhabit. Understandably, people feel irate about the tech titans tax paying or the data being collected about them. Recent doteveryone research showed that while 53% of uk adults thought tech was a benefit to them individually, only 13% thought it was a benefit to society. This matters.
Anxiety about the rate of technological change is what, to my mind, populist rhetoric partly plays into. Clearly we cannot go backwards – whatever some of our fellow citizens might want, the innovation and progress that has occured over the last 25 years is still, for the most part, miraculous.
However, we do need to help people feel as though they have more control. We also need to help governments understand and take a more active lead in building a resilient digital society alongside the digital economy. This involves continuing legislative modernisation and public service delivery reform.
Our own UK culture secretary, Matt Hancock came up for much abuse recently when he launched an app to stay in touch with constituents. Inevitably, a hundred hilarious memes grew up and perhaps naming the app MATT was a mistake, but I salute him for trying to build his network in an interesting way – we need politicians to be relevant and test ideas.
I think it is still right to feel optimistic, and it’s not just because I’m writing this after visiting the cradle of optimism, silicon valley. More people, from more diverse backgrounds are able to garner support and attention for important ideas than ever before and that must be worth remembering and celebrating.