New Power and the Digital Revolution

This post was originally published on Be Collective.

After a whirlwind four days attending Pause Festival and Link Festival in Melbourne, the Be Collective office has been abuzz with discussion. What’s got us talking is the community of passionate individuals collaborating digitally to make the world a better place - not just here in Australia, but globally.

This shift hasn’t escaped the attention of some of the world’s most influential - with The Washington Post and Harvard Business Review both recently publishing reflections on the changing nature of global power.

“Power is decaying,” Moises Naim observes in the WP piece, pointing to military, political and business examples throughout the world. And he’s right - the big institutions we’re so used to deferring to no longer hold the influence they once did. The global power dynamic is changing in a big way - and the internet has a lot to do with it.

Directly from The Washington Post:

“The new breed of micropowers is opportunistically exploiting the weakness of entrenched but declining incumbents in disparate arenas. “Insurgents, fringe political parties, innovative start-ups, hackers, loosely organized activists, upstart citizen media, leaderless young people in city squares” and others “are shaking up the old order,” Naim concludes.”

And from Harvard Business Review:

“Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”

The reason we’re so excited about this change is that this new framework of collective influence and distributed power sits squarely within the values framework we’re so passionate about at Be Collective. Collective Impact, Shared Value, Collaborative Consumption - all ideas getting plenty of buzz, but also frameworks for real change. We’re excited because we want to see communities self-organised and determining what works for them in their local area. We want individuals and small organisations to have the power to make decisions at their fingertips, and we want them to be based on the needs of the real people they see around them. We want to see power rise in a concentrated area to draw attention to an issue or solve a problem, and then dissipate or transfer to whereever else it is needed. We believe in the capacity of a powerful digital infrastructure to do all this and more.

We’re not naive enough to think that technology is going to save the world, but we do believe that empowered communities have the potential to really change what’s happening locally, and that if this is repeated throughout the world this could significantly change the way we determine what works and what’s important and make decisions that affect many. We’re talking about discussions that go right to the heart of how we structure ourselves as a civic society - big stuff, and important conversations to have.

If, as Naim suggests, the biggest challenge is in global cooperation to solve the big challenges, we hope networked infrastructure like Be Collective could help facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps. Naim’s thoughts also reinforce the value of the open eco-system we’re building – which is something we believe is key to success.

While the changing nature of global power may mean political instability in the short term, perhaps it is creating the opportunity we need to look seriously at whether we want our biggest policy and progress decisions to be made by those with vested interests. Perhaps exciting new digital tools are the catalyst we need for power de-centralisation, well-connected communities and greater civic engagement. And could that really be a bad thing?

Though it may create a lack of public consensus on policy, it makes an interesting change from the dominant ideologies which are solely focused on what’s going to deliver profit and drive growth. The dismantling of global power structures means more opportunities for individuals, local communities, and the collective global community to look at reconstructing global power with more intention, and greater consideration given to equality, wellbeing, health, connecting with others, and (ultimately) true prosperity.

So maybe the Third Revolution the emergence of digital technology is creating isn’t in the way we access information, nor is it Revolution in the sense of political revolt and overthrow. Perhaps it is in the way we reconfigure the systems that govern us, rewriting centuries of tradition, and removing layers of entrenched hierarchy.

Time will tell, but we’re certainly excited for what the future holds, and inspired by what we can unlock with what we’re creating.