Is Social Media really making us all inhabitants of one big global village? Is it dividing us into tribes defined more by beliefs, lifestyle and income than nationality, ethnic origin or even religion? Or is it reinforcing national or religious identity, increasing the “us against them” thinking, creating more boundaries than it is destroying? There is plenty of evidence to support both sides of the argument.
Many commentators are trumpeting social media in particular and the internet-connected world generally, as the great levellers. The 21 st century phenomenon that is going to create a homogenous group of global consumers all responding in the same way to social media stimuli.
No longer responding to messages in the “old” media. All of us rushing to buy the latest shiny electronic gadgets, fashions or organic locally grown foods, as a result of the same social media advertisements whether we are in Toronto or Timbuctoo, New York or Newcastle, London or Lahore. The same ads apart from differences in language in the short-term.
In another couple of generations, will we all be communicating in the universally accepted language of “Texting” ? Will most language barriers have gone?
This line of thought suggests that for most of the worlds connected consumers – those with some disposable income and a smart phone, tablet or computer, being a member of the most fashionable “tribe” of consumers will create stronger loyalties and cooperation, than national or political interests.
A an example, taken to the extreme, this thinking would have us voting across national boundaries for the candidate most likely to improve our bandwidth or encourage employers to allow tweet breaks during working hours.
Will “News” from 140 character tweets, many-times-shared Facebook updates or You Tube videos, unverified as it may be, carry more weight than news in the “old” media of print, radio and TV? This is already the case for many younger social media addicts.
A few recent events tend to suggest the opposite.
- Events that show nationalism and religious fanaticism are unlikely to be suppressed by waves of tweets or social media activity. Social media’s role in the “Arab Spring” indicates it can increase national or sectarian unity.
- In Afghanistan, using the burning of religious books (allegedly in error) as an excuse to murder locals and US soldiers, and generally create havoc.
- In Libya, desecrating the graves of Nato soldiers by smashing headstones.
- Iran ratcheting up tension in the Middle East with its determination to create nuclear weapons. Israel vowing to protect itself from this threat by whatever means necessary.
- Vladimir Putin convincingly winning the Russian Presidential election ignoring claims of vote rigging and opposing every move the West makes to end the massacres in Syria.
- The stresses in the EU between the have and have-not nations and the likelihood that despite bailouts, Greece will still default and leave the union.
It is easy to accept greater similarities in retail purchasing behaviour between consumer with the same profiles in different parts of the world, but not to be convinced that this will translate into all other types of behaviour.
There is too much evidence to show that nationalism is alive and well. For many nations, their very survival may depend on acting in their own best interests not those of a global community. The current, but declining, only great power, the USA may have to stop apologising to the killers of US troops and start using a big stick to make the countries it is helping behave themselves. Or just leave them to their own devices and if they re-emerge as a threat in the future, treat them to another wave of shock-and- awe without a costly attempt at nation building. Either way, if the Western nations act to protect their own interests, they are sure to alienate other nations or groups.
The struggle for control of the Internet will intensify. Insecure governments will fight harder to use their power to silence opponents and control the population. We are already seeing some democratic governments introducing legislation to increase this control. The UN and the EU are getting in on the act.
What will the global market place look like in 20 or 50 years ahead?
Very different from today but truly universal? Unlikely.
More likely it will be like the ripples in a pond from several stones being thrown in at the same time. Some large stones create ripples big enough to overcome other smaller ripples and even swamp low-lying sand banks, others merely cause a small local disturbance.
What do you think? Will our markets be one big ocean or a series of disconnected ponds?
Leave a comment with your ideas.
Wishing you success in all your endeavours.
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