In a couple of days over 250 people will gather at Sweden Social Web Camp to discuss the future and the impact of the social web.
A lot of the discussion on web development is technology focused. And of course, the technology behind WordPress, Facebook and Twitter are crucial in the sense that they provide ordinary people with a technical infrastructure which is so easy to use that you can connect with anyone at anytime, be it for professional or private reasons.
But I sometimes find it hard to explain to people outside of the web debate just how profoundly I believe that social media, and how social media teaches us to connect with people, is going to change the way we live. The closest thing I can think of as a comparison is the arrival of the car.
The social infrastructure that evolves right now through social media will have the same cultural impact on society as when cars were made available to the common man.
Let me explain. When the car was made available to anyone by Ford, it was in many ways also just a technical invention. But it was the way the car liberated our way of living that made a profound social impact.
Suddenly you could commute comfortably from green and leafy suburbs. Mass tourism was made possible. We got drive-in bingos, movies and restaurants and what-not. We changed our shopping patterns. Because of our social creativity using the car we now live, shop, work, do business and travel differently than before.
When the technology and infrastructure became commonplace, the car was only the technical vessel that enabled us humans to interact in new ways and in new places, creating new business opportunities, cultures and lifestyles.
Looking back through history, any technical invention that allows us to connect in new ways has had a strong societal impact, such as the railways or the telephone. We are already seeing similar signs of change with the phenomena we call social media.
People are using it to organize and protest in censored and closed societies. We are influencing our friends and being influenced ourselves on what to read, buy and where to travel. We are connecting with people with similar interests on a global scale and finding jobs, houses and partners on the web.
Clay Shirky said that “Technology becomes socially interesting only once it has become technologically boring”. We have long spoken of the information highway, but what is built on top of that highway is profoundly more interesting. It is a social infrastructure, a highway which transports ideas, knowledge and innovation at a fraction of the time and cost compared to before.
We will still do business, shop, fall in love and travel, but we will be doing all of these things in an increasingly different way, using the web as a facilitator to solve every-day situations.
Things will be different. And the factor driving this change is not mainly technology, but people.
[Detta inlägg av Kristine Heinonen är på engelska eftersom SSWC är ett internationellt möte. Standardspråket här är fortfarande svenska, men undantag som bekräftar regeln är ju alltid en bra sak]