Social Enterprise

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Linking up with Barack Obama?

Social networks make us all much closer than we ever thought

Compiled at my hotel in Jersey City, New Jersey, US, on a rainy autumn day and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi connection

Travelling as I do in the course of my professional activities, I meet a lot of interesting and well-connected people. For the most part I link up with them by email and social networking sites.

Today the resulting network sees 1,830 primary connections (out of the near 5,000 in my email address book), linking to 295,200 in one hop, and then to 8,749,600 on the next. And this network is growing at around 10,000 to 20,000 new contacts a day!

Of course, I am not the only pro-active networker. I receive a lot of requests from others to link up, as well as invites to special interest groups (these I filter to ensure the most useful and productive outcome for me and my business).

Just recently I have noticed a new trend. I am seeing the potential to link directly with leading world figures that I have mostly never even been in the presence of. Here is a short list of people that popped onto my screen this past week:

  • Barack Obama
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Bill Gates
  • Matt Damon (the actor)

Their profiles look to be genuine enough but I have no real way of telling other than mailing my intermediate contacts to check, or contacting my social network provider. Interestingly, I have not received any links to EU politicians, actors or public figures - I am still mulling over the likely implications of all this.

We have seen industry and society transformed by technology with government generally out on a limb at the back of the pack. The recent US Presidential elections gave an indication of just how powerful a political force the internet and social networking may become. But this latest development may be one of those 'stage left' surprises which adds a whole new dimension to the situation.

If politicians start to use online social networking in the same way as the rest of society and business - and I can't see why they wouldn't - we could see new modes of influence develop where government (at all levels) gets much more connected and far more real-time. The implications are profound and unprecedented.

While I can applaud the prospect of a more connected and responsive government, the potential for the demise of 'considered evidence and opinion' coupled with the likely death of due process could see a less than ideal outcome. This may be a step too far for the limited capabilities of the human mind - and the point at which machine augmentation becomes an essential.

The world was thought to be flat just a few centuries ago and we proved it was round - and now it looks as though we may have flattened it again!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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