500 years ago the communications system in the west was owned by one organization – the church. If you wanted something in writing a monk transcribed it. Few knew how to read as a result of books being so expensive. Your network news was delivered from the pulpit. The system supported the status quo of the power of God’s elect, the King and his henchmen the aristocracy and above supported the most powerful multinational enterprise the world had yet seen the church itself. The church was the largest landowner in the west at a time when land was the basis of all wealth. The barriers to competition were impossibly high.
I am sure that when Gutenberg built his first press that there was a lot of chatter about font types, about gearing and pressure and inks and about the best type of paper – the kind of geek talk that is central to all new things. This is where so much of the discourse is today about blogging – RSS etc. But the true power of the printing press was something else that went way beyond how it worked. It was how it was used that was to be important.
Within a hundred years huge numbers of people could read. It was possible to run off broadsheets – personal publishing very cheaply. So what happened as a result of this use of the new technology?
The reformation in Europe, the dissolution of the monasteries in the England the the redistribution of all that wealth to secular hands, the civil war and the end of the idea of monarchy being God’s anointed. The modern world was created where new ideas based on observation – such as a new vision of the universe – could not be held back by the establishment in spite of persecution.
So this is what will happen with blogging. What blogging is, is an end run on the strangle hold of our conversation and on our mindset that the corporate and institutional world has established. Until now the costs of having a human voice were set impossibly high. Only Rupert Murdoch or a government could play. But now communication costs are ridiculously low compared to the mainstream media and communications in corporations and government. Not only are the costs low but the interactive element of blogging is so much more powerful than the broadcast technique owned by the institutions. Any one of us can have a voice and groups can have power.Institutions are frightened of this voice and will fight it because it means that they will die as a result.
As at the time of the reformation – the general adoption of blogging tools will lead to the overthrow of the corporate and the institutional mind. In so doing it will release the vast treasure that it locked up in the costs of corporate and institutional life. It will free men and women from being peons in a feudal state where they had to live as liege men and offer fealty to their overlords.
We are not only oppressed by those in power in institutional life, we, like medieval peasant, are complicit. We know of no other life. Knowing no other life, like those in Plato’s cave, we cannot imagine what freedom from institutional life might be like. We fear freedom because we see no alternative to bondage.
Even simple blogging can help here. It offers for the first time to each of us the potential to find our voice. At first maybe to tell the world what we had for breakfast or to recall some work idea. But I have found in myself a huge change in the last year in my inner voice and in the confidence as I discover that I am not alone in how I think.
Until now people who think as I do have struggled alone. We are by nature are not joiners. Fewer of us every day work in institutional life and cannot use that voice. What “organ” do we have to speak with a human voice? Blogging By finding so many of us out there, we grow in confidence and our voice becomes less hesitant. I feel wonder as I read new blogs every week and see how close our thinking is. This is how power is created
Technical talk is helpful. It leads to better tools. But let’s talk more about how we will use blogging to change our world. It is not about making the corporation better – this type of discussion would be the same as a group of monks talking about how printing was going to help the church. It is about how to we take the institution out of our lives.
(Thanks to Dave Pollard for getting me going this week)
New movements tend to stall when the “in group” want to keep the movement within the
The same may be true for blogging. The number of people that know about what a blog is among my clients is very small. Intuitively I would say less than 2%. What would put them off? Anything technical. Blogging has to be made really easy.
Why do I mention St Paul? At the outset of Christianity there was a huge debate. The “In Group” as lead by the surviving disciples of Jesus insisted that to be a Christian you had to be a Jew. This meant adult circumcision for the men and backseat behind a screen for the women. Quite a “technical” hurdle!!!. Paul argued that all men and women should be able to become Christians – guess who won? Pride in coping with the technical sides of blogging is a block for take-up.
The real opportunity is when a group of “Ingroup folks” maybe like “socialtext” really engage with organizational life and find the fit. Step 1 has to be”Easy does it” Easy does it demands that anyone who can type can set up a good blog and that there are a number of great templates. We are exploring Typepad to see if we can make it even easier.
Step two has to be finding the immediate felt benefit. This is more challenging and I think demands that we find parts of an organization where building a community will help – maybe in the entire support area. This is where the whole KM issue rears its head. The idea of content management is an exceptionally stupid idea that flies in the face of how we understand knowledge. Only a small fraction of knowledge is explicit – the vast bulk is implicit – ie it is ten times better to talk to someone about an issue than to try and find what he has written about it. Who wants a manual when you can be walked through? BP has been a leader here in seeing that their key system issues is to find a way of connecting people with questions to people with answers. Each employee has a personal website that amongst other things has a lot of info about what they know. The deal at BP is that if you have question you search for the person.
Why should we care anyway? Blogging is our path back to being human at work. Blogging reveals who we are to not only others but more importantly to ourselves. For the first time mankind – the great tool maker – who has used tool making ingenuity to make the world and himself into a tool, or a thing, has created a tool that renews and brings back what it is to be human.
So like Paul – we are faced with an historic choice. We can relegate blogging to geekiness and tool making or we can work to change our relationships back from machine to human.
What do I mean by this bold statement? We can change democracy by making it essential for politicians to be real and to listen to us. We can get the issues that make sense on the table other than spin. We can make management of organizations transparent and give organizations a human Cluetrain voice. We can change how we learn – from each other rather than from institutions. We can change healthcare by empowering fellow sufferers to help each other rather than to rely on the priests of medicine. We so change the world as Paul did.