Doing some serious social bookmarking (about social bookmarking again), I stumbled across an interesting looking blog. “Tim’s Blog” was immediately interesting for two main reasons: firstly, he has produced and kindly made available an A4 guide to social bookmarking, which I believe will be useful for presenting to any takers for my forthcoming social bookmarking project at my teaching centre. Secondly, on his mission statement page he makes the following bold declaration:

“…we need young people to be empowered, and technologies to help us collaborate – in order to tackle big social issues and to bring about real, positive social change. Because that’s what creative, connected and empowered people do.”

Stirring stuff, which cast my mind back about 20 years to a meeting that I attended with various anarchists, communists and media hacks in attendance, which made something of a fist of discussing the potential of the emerging whisperings of a new way of communicating by interconnected computers in different parts of the world. Of course the word ‘internet’ wasn’t used, but it wasn’t long until a free modem came into my possession and sat proudly next to the Amstrad waiting for me to find out what to do with it (I never did and in any case, there was a severe shortage of ISPs at the time).

But, the point was that there was a great deal of excitement about the potential at that early stage for the social aspect of the web to offer a powerful means of promoting political ideas and perhaps build political movements, rather as the pirate radio movement ‘Free the Airwaves’ had tried to do around that time. This aspect of the web never really materialised, perhaps because a political movement was the antithesis of what the web was all about: i.e. the former was a means of bringing people together with a common political goal (normally someone else’s), or a whole cluster of them, while the web was to be about people coming together on their own terms as and when they wanted for a mind-boggling array of reasons that change faster than you can hope to count them. The political movement is dead, long live the social network (and whatever it morphs into).

It also occurred to me recently that the online social network existed before the web, in a very real sense. If you are old enough to remember, you might recall that in the 80s newspapers and late night TV channels carried endless ads for phone in chat lines that allowed large numbers of people to call a number and be connected to a synchronous spoken chat room. As I recall, for I never participated in this phenomenon being far to busy with my own face-to-face social networking, these were limited to the notion of an online party, with people looking to hook up one way or another. They never really had much to do movements of any sort. Nevertheless, the two ideas were already there: the desire for more power among the politicised via an international, non-controlled communications network, and the burgeoning online social group mindset that was already in full swing and looking for a new and more dynamic (not to mention cheaper) place to hang out. The rest is (recent) history.

Which brings me back to Tim’s Blog. The desire for social change is still there, but I can’t help feeling that the yearned-for communications revolution has brought with it (or coincided with) a feeling of helplessness as the world appears to move inexorably towards global climatic catastrophe and unpopular wars rage around us bringing their consequences to our doors. Has the explosion in communications produced nothing more than a cacophony of white noise from a world of meaningless chatter? Or is the next step in the social networking revolution to be real empowerment?