The first time I really discovered the sheer, raw power of instant electronic communication over the internet was a kamikaze affair. A friend was being treated very unfairly, I thought, by an organisation we both had dealings with. So I decided that enough was enough; wrote a heavy-duty email about what I thought of the organisation and its questionable ethics; and posted it off to their entire membership email list as well as to quite a few members of the public and the local press. Oops, was that a bad idea. The firestorm of fury which descended on my head was something to behold. What I now, very profoundly know is that instantly having so many really pissed off people in your life is seriously something to be avoided.
To cut a long story short this act got my friend into so much hot water I had to attend a full meeting of the organisation and apologise for my indiscretion in person. Not one of the happier moments of my life. But there was another moment which made it all worthwhile. Counting down out loud from 10 to 1, hitting the ‘enter’ key on “FIRE”, and launching my little Exocet of truth out into the ether was a moment of awesome personal satisfaction. It was then that I first realised my own, real, power of communication to instantly express exactly what I thought to exactly those who needed to know it. That was absolutely brilliant, but, as it turned out, socially suicidal at the same time.
This self-same individual power of communication is now what is changing our world in a way never before possible over the whole of human evolution. We, this generation, are finally becoming what media guru Marshall McLuhan predicted we would become back in the 1960s: “The Global Village”. Everyone who is locally connected is now globally connected to everyone else; a mind-boggling notion to think about considering it only took about 20 years for it to become the new, global, public domain.
But being able to communicate on this global scale is just the basic, connectivity property of the new electronic medium itself. The content and tools which come with it are even more empowering. When I want to know everything about anything all I have to do is type in the right key words, hit ‘enter’, and up pops more information about a topic than it’s possible to read. Every day my chosen list of news feeds constantly keep me up to date on current affairs, and I have instant access to every imaginable kind of database with more informative documents than I could ever dream of when I bought my first PC back in 1992. And with my email list I have the very handy means with which to instantly contact all of my friends and colleagues around the world, without first having to find a stamp in order to use snail-mail.
On the downside it also seems that every single person I have ever met over my entire lifetime is only one click away on Facebook or LinkedIn (which I find much too overwhelming to consider doing). Viruses have several times crashed my whole system. Just keeping my inbox empty has become an arduous daily task. And my preferred state of quiet anonymity has gone with the electronic wind. But I still totally love it all. I am empowered beyond my wildest imagination, as is every other soul who is connected to this fantastic new medium of personal empowerment.
And here’s the rub. Not everyone is connected. In fact most people in SA are still not connected. And, in the context of achieving ‘integrated and coherent socio-economic progress’ for the millions of marginalised citizens of this country, this must surely be the most vital strategic shortcoming to address. We, as a nation, need to get all of these citizens connected to the self-empowerment potential of the internet as soon as possible.
Having the media tools of communication and knowledge available to them will free up the vast creative potential of innovative human energy currently lying moribund in this sector, and logistically enable such properly informed and knowingly empowered citizens to be able to apply this creative energy to self-address their own needs. For therein, I believe, lies the future of real progress.
The only codicil to this e-scenario is for everyone to have the wisdom of Yoda when using them.