.@stoweboyd – /message – (on edglings) and the future of everything

I have been throwing the term “Edgling” around a lot recently, as has been noted by various folks. I think that Jay Rosen’s term, The People Formerly Known As The Audience (TPFKATA) is unwieldy, and subject to all sorts of theatrical metaphorical clashes, as Doc Searls noted:

I don’t deny that I am sometimes on stage and sometimes an audience member (the latter more often than the former). But I’m uncomfortable with the theater metaphor (Shakespeare withstanding), at least in respect to blogging. I think bloggers have readers, not audiences. And I think the distinction is important, if not essential.

It’s different with podcasting, or any other kind of ‘casting. There, often (though not always) we are performing. The theater metaphor is more appropriate. Yet even here we run the risk of perceived hierarchy, since the audience is subordinate to the performer. (Podcasting, blogging) is Theater is an example of what cognitive linguists call a conceptual metaphor, or a frame. It’s something we think and talk in terms of. Meaning, we borrow a concept (a frame) and and its vocabulary to understand and talk about a subject. There are entailments to the theater metaphor. One is the old top-down media that really were comprised of performers and audiences. Because peer practices like blogging and podcasting don’t require the same asymmetries, why continue to use an asymmetrical frame when symmetrical one will do?

Also, what works best with blogging and podcasting is just being ourselves. Without artifice. Without performance. Without contrivance. No less talented, but far more relaxed, than what being “on stage” traditionally, reflexively, requires.

Personally, I favor the term Edgling because I want to move away from media metaphors, and use economic or sociological ones. This is not about who is “producing content” and who is “consuming” it: which is the basic paradigm of media thinking. Instead, it is about control moving from the central, large, mass-market organizations — which includes media companies, but also other large organizations, like government, religious organizations, and so on — out to the individuals — we, the people — at the edge.

As power moves from the center to the edge the “Centroids” — those that hold with the centralized power of an industrial era — will scream about all the negatives that they perceive in the out-of-control future that threatens the basis of their world view. But the Edglings will find it liberating to get out of the stranglehold on information, communication, and the marketplace that centralized organizations attempt to impose.

Just as importantly, I think that Edglings share a common base of perceptions about the world and our place in it that transcend the media market, and form what I think of as the basis for a future metaphysics, or, at the least, a new worldview. I have written about the central propositions of web culture before (see Rebooting, and The Rise of Web Culture and Its Enemies, for example), and I believe that the rise of web culture is perhaps the greatest hope that humanity has for a better, or at least survivable, future.

Here’s some thoughts on the emerging characteristics of web culture: the glue that holds Edglings — and through them, everything else — together:

  Centroids Edglings
Work and Politics Top-down, authoritarian Bottom-up, egalitarian
Point-of-View Objective, Impartial Subjective, Partial
Belonging Hierarchies Networks
Family Nuclear Post-nuclear networks
Political scope Nationalism Regionalism
Media Mainstream Participative
Culture Monocultural Multicultural
Environment Exploitative, Unsustainable Restorative, Sustainable
Spirituality Centralized, Dogmatic, Outside of Nature Decentralized, Enigmatic, Nature based

These facets of society are arrayed in no particular order, and are strongly mutually reinforcing. They share, at the core, a strong predisposition to reject centralized authority, whether in business, government, media, or religion. The web allows us to change all the major axes of life, and to work our way onto a substantively different cultural ethos than what has preceded it, specifically the structures of life and work that have been thrown up by the industrial revolution and its aftermath.

I cannot overstate that everything is being changed by this new communication matrix. It will change our perceptions and sense of self, how we identify with others and how that affiliation takes place, what we think of as important, and what we believe needs to be done to make the world a better place to live and work.

I am no bomb-throwing revolutionary, but I do feel that much of what is wrong in the world is the outcome of outmoded forms of social interaction, and that much of that will need to be put aside. New forms of social engagement and cultural involvement will arise, and inexorably rewire the world and our minds. And those who have much to lose will struggle long and hard to stop or slow this change. [As just one example, the current trend in the US Executive branch toward consolidation of power and the unbalancing of our three-part systems of checks and balances is an almost subconscious struggle against the dissolution of the center and the coming rise of the edge.]

In media, there is no going back from what the Blogosphere has done. The Web has shaken US politics up, but it has not led to a transformation in our political systems. But that is likely to change, as more and more people grow disenchanted with a system that demands so much and is capable of doing so little. And in our personal lives, we seek a greater degree of autonomy and satisfaction in the workplace and our pursuit of happiness, where art is becoming intermixed with punching the clock.

More people are becoming more aware of a greater world, a larger world, and are starting to consider themselves as world citizens, rather than simply as inhabitants of nation states that arose through millennia of wars of conquest and domination. People are reconnecting with a local sense of place: their neighborhood, their specific locale. This glocalization of world view will shift power — slowly — away from nationalism. Consider the example of Catalonia, or the growing differences between blue and red states.

These trends will lead to a basic identification of ourselves as humans living together on Spaceship Earth, as Buckminster Fuller called it, and a rejection of ideologies that divide us based on language, religion, caste, gender, or ethnic background. As anthropologist and ethnographer Claude Levi-Strauss said, in a 1972 interview,

A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of others before love of self.

This is the lesson that the people we call “savages” teach us: a lesson of modesty, decency and discretion in the face of a world that preceded our species and that will survive it.

We need to put things back into place, although the configuration that web culture will make of all this is brand new. Much of the sensibility of our time will seem like a return to things that were put aside at the start of the industrial revolution, although much will be completely new. But at the core, Levi-Strauss’ checklist — world, life, people, the respect of others, self — seems like a pretty good starting point.





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