Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Wisdom of Crowds...

I have seen talks about social media by people with expertise who objected to the "everyone's an expert" phenomenon. The issue that concerns me, though, is not so much that some opinionated bloggers :D can claim more of a following than people who know what they're talking about but it's about the nature of influence and the apparent malleability of public opinion.

People's cultural beliefs are generally, well, cultural, historical, inherited and then mussed around by messages that support the economy (the economy is how we are organized and then interact to get what we need from nature.) We know why we need a public broadcaster in a world where messages are dominated by the power-houses of the economy. What's to stop the same people who created so-called "populist" sound-byte news from dominating the social media web-o-sphere and having an even greater influence on public opinion?

Charles Taylor decried the emphasis on the economic machine as a cultural ideal in an article entitled "The Agony of Economic Man" (1971). More generally, and very much related, are the warnings of thinkers like Maslow and Gadamer about our conflation of means with ends in an increasingly instrumentalist society.

Our real social ideals have become seen as "merely" subjective values. A sizable majority of people seem generally keen on aligning themselves with whatever version of "the divine right of kings" plays out in public discourse. Far from being either populist or grass roots wisdom, where each person contributes his or her own carefully thought-out view to the common good, what seems to be the case is that, as Matthew Taylor says in his RSAnimate talk, 21st Century Enlightenment (also posted below), people pursue "simplistic and inadequate ideas of freedom, justice and progress." They're simplistic, IMO, because they're not framed as cultural ideals, but as ideological supports for the "economy", i.e., as supports for the instrumental requirements of the economic power-houses.

With public opinion as the opinion of the electorate/tax payers, whose side do the politicians need to be on when public opinion is so readily influenced?

What is the role of the new media government communications person or policy analyst when this question needs to be taken in to account?

(I'd recommend the article by David Blacker, linked on the side, if you're up for a bit of a think.)

These are all difficult questions.

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