The Future Now of Influence -> #social #web #content #context #communities #intent #storytelling #Good
“Man's nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love. You must never despair of human nature.”
Influence squared: Weaving together the human quilt.
The social web has, without question, connected all of us in profound ways.
I have personally built a network of people I greatly admire and respect, many of whom I have yet to meet in the physical world, some with whom I have built enough trust to the extent that we even work together on different projects. The emotional and intellectual bonds that we share often supersede geography. At times this feels strange or disorienting to a degree, but most often it reinforces the reasons why I exist: to ask the harder questions, to take on the bigger challenges and to help elevate human discourse... Even while I slog away as a corporate citizen ;)
Those with whom I have connected over time have only exceeded my perceptions and expectations of who they are and what they contribute to my experiences with them, not to mention the people we are connected to, and who they are connected to, and so on.
More importantly, we are converging around ideas and intentions that have arguably been redefined, even recontextualized, through more meaningful uses of communication. And while we do face great challenges with respect to how much we communicate, how personal we make those communications and the impetus for sustaining them (things we can ascribe to what Eli Pariser has aptly defined as our filter bubble), the notion of influence and all that it entails has brought to light some nuances worth examining.
The new Dialectic.
We might ask some core questions:
When we think about influence, what are the levers for being influential?
Why do we care? What do we care about?
What do we actually do about what we care about?
Can we remove the boundaries of physical space or geography? Does this distort our perceptions around intention and action? Can we delineate between passive and dynamic experiences?
What does real interaction look like?
Does it change us? Does it transform us?
Does it make us better people?
Does it make us care about the world around us?
Can we measure this depth and meaning in the form of actions that go well beyond an intent to sell or purchase?
Can we influence our friends and neighbors (altruistically) through direct exchanges of goods and services?
In the semantic work we have done with eCairn (a company I advise and have been intimately involved with over the last three years), it has been interesting to witness the shift in conversational dynamics, especially in how we have been able to analyze various lingual expressions and map those correlations to geographies and the communities within them.
[A map of content communities of or relating to “diabetes”; we can see hundreds of thousands of conversations at any given time, contextualized through expressions and degrees of influence – what we consider to be influence – and adapting to the nuances we see in those conversations. In essence, the user curates the data, and in the process, sees stories emerge between these nodes and connectors. The results are amazing; people make measurable contributions to the advancement of things like scientific research and nutritional awareness.]
In sum, we are starting to see expressions of behavior in which action and intent align — these seem to be the real proxies for influence. Moreover, our social profiles seem to be reliant upon those proxies, particularly as we move from an Internet of information to a web of things, places, objects and motivations.
Any individual, group or organization that chooses to be relevant in the 21st Century must look at motivation as a driver for growth, whether that growth hinges on economic gain, social recognition, cultural elasticity or a combination of all three (or other crucial factors). In the most ideal of cases, they can become values we compete over that are inextricably linked. But they are not so much things we aspire to, rather things we must adopt, own and share as we evolve.
Looking fortuitously at the Future Now.
The Future Now is a state of mind and action. It is considerate of the past, immersed in the present and builds towards collaborative intent (a future state that permeates our thinking in the Now).
Perhaps the Future Now resides in the idea that commerce and art are no longer distant cousins (at least comparative to what they were, say, 30 years ago), but the connective tissue between our motivations to find meaning and purpose.
Strong ties come in small bits (with a longer tail).
In our academic and professional circles, we can argue ad infinitum over the true source of the revolutions in the Middle East, or what facilitated disaster relief in Haiti, or how micro-communities have been supported (or besieged) in Sub-Saharan Africa. What we can’t deny is how evolution stair-steps, often in smaller, measurable steps, weaving in and around the barriers we have created through technology. Be that as it may, technology only reveals to us a fundamental truth about our existence: that we are connected in unimaginable ways, and will only grow from those connections, intelligibly and emotively.
The purpose of social currency (social intent).
We work, live and think through a series of social exchanges, often daily, sometimes latently. If a Klout or Peer Index score or our share prices on Empire Avenue are the strongest indications of “influence”, then we might as well get bigger megaphones... Or opt for something softer, more congenial and far less egotistical. Don’t get me wrong, it is important that we explore these new territories of the virtual world and their emerging currencies, but lest we forget that artificial barriers abound, masking our intentions at every turn, whether we like it or not. Remember: We are nothing without our intent.
Conversations can’t be just conversations (by their very nature...).
Talk isn’t necessarily cheap (in fact, for many brands it’s quite expensive), it’s just a commodity when its scale lacks intention. When our intentions align, then our realities coalesce – they become preemptive, if not proactive. The mortgage crisis, product recalls, the healthcare debacles and the overall shortsales of human interest at the heels of austerity are all manifestations of fear... A lack of intention. But fear not, if history repeats itself so easily we also know that change is also easy to identify, despite the complexities of our world. A prediction: web ubiquity and contextual computation will only force this hand, and call most of us into meaningful action.
The Lady Gaga Misnomer (the truth about “superfandom”).
Speaking of meaningful action... At breakfast this morning, a friend and colleague of mine shared a great story about the phenomenon that is Lady Gaga. He had been talking with her manager at a dinner party, who said that amid the 32 million plus fans she has acquired in her young career, only 60 – that’s right, SIX-ZERO – are her real fans, her “superfans”, who make or break her career and its respective paths. They essentially do all the talking, all the doing and all the marketing for her. This might not be entirely surprising when we think about how careers, especially in music, are so easily made and destroyed. But perhaps there is something far more kinetic in this equation, which is the idea that influence is borne from an intention so strong, a passion so alive, that what springs from it cannot be stopped. It can’t be confined to words. More importantly, it defines the path of the ordained. Lady Gaga is just a woman who had an imagination and a heart bigger than her own self — she played the role of a superstar, an inspirational icon, even when she was only performing for audiences of 30. Imagine what would happen if we were all influenced in the same way... If we all conveyed the emotion she does through her work (whether you like it or not...) and through those she so profoundly influences.
Smart mesh networking (OkCupid’s silent mantra).
Think of love as the ultimate measure of influence and you can throw a dart in any given direction. Even more glaringly, you can enjoy the pleasures of making an actual love connection, a justifiably priceless endeavor, without feeling shame or abandonment if it doesn’t happen to “work out”. Borrowing once again from the Louis Cheskin school of sensation transference, the idea of mesh networks melds our minds and turns our hearts into, well, mush – love is a force that drives influence, in all its varying degrees, independently of technology or its endless trappings. This isn’t just good, bad or neutral sentiment though; this is something far more captivating. When conversation ends, what remains is a reckoning of sorts -- what dimensionalizes love, and why we use the darker sides of the psyche to give it new meaning. Imagine if we used our influence to turn our notions of love into currencies based around passion, affinity and goodwill. Call them Mush Networks if you must... But keep in mind that what keeps them alive are the stories we tell around them.
Stories of action and experience.
If we consider that Plato’s dialectic era intended to question the existence of things like love and the progenitors of it (or its great mysteries), perhaps now we can intend to question the whys and hows of beings as they exist in the natural world – a world as mysterious as it is precocious. In this sense, stories are not merely accounts or interpretations of things past, but of actions unfolding... Adaptive, colorful, emergent... Enlightening.
This is how communities tend to emerge. How they align. How they strengthen. How they act. How they influence the Future Now.
The influential conclusion.
In somewhat ironic summation:
“A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.”