Amerika

Social media as a model for the collapse of liberal democracy

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We are now familiar with the social media cycle:

  1. New site appears and the movers and shakers — power users, artists, thinkers — are drawn to it.
  2. “Everyone else” shows up.
  3. The site creates new policies and rules to deal with the monkeytime behavior of the everyone else.
  4. The site no longer offers information of importance to movers and shakers because it is drowned out by the flood of memes, chatter, kitty pictures and personal drama.
  5. The movers and shakers move on to a new site. Restart the cycle.

Maybe you saw this first with Something Awful, Friendster, or MySpace and are now seeing it with Facebook and Twitter. It almost looks like a whole generation of oversold internet companies are heading toward the dumpster this way.

This is analogous to what happens to civilizations. One group carves them out of the wild; we could call these “creators.” Then others show up or emerge through the process of genetic expression which produces some excellence, mostly the same, and some errors. Errors compound. This new group, which we might call “participants,” are not the movers and shakers the creators were. They are there for the easier living and will contribute only what they are compelled to.

Over time, the society changes its policies and rules to accommodate the participants, who are less disciplined and moral in personal behavior and also more random in their activity. Lacking the guiding spirit of creators, they tend to focus more on the personal, sensual and immediate. The leaders of the society shrug: the participants outnumber the creators. As a result, like a business, that society panders to the audience it has instead of the audience it needs.

But the tipping point is long in coming. People went to MySpace because the audience was there; if they wanted to promote a band or idea, all of the fans or readers were there. Even as the writing of collapse is on the wall, more people pour in. The leaders nod sagely and think their strategy is working. Their bank accounts do not lie, after all… but among those, the smart ones take the money and run. They get out because they hear the sound of crumbling.

In the same way, a dying society produces leaders like Angela Merkel and Barack Obama. Their goal is to be as popular as possible so they can gain wealth and fame and escape the dying society. As it runs itself into oblivion, they will be living in some paradise for the rich where private security protects them from the chaos. They will have used their home society as a means to the end of their own power, and then escaped the consequences.

The participants will throw up their hands. Everything seems to be bad all of a sudden. Slowly, they will begin leaving. If they are on a social media site, they will go to whatever new one their friends are using. If they are in a dying civilization, they will emigrate. The only people left watching the stove will be those with no other options, in other words, the lowest rungs of the participants.

And so the old social media site will resemble a third world nation: a mass of people behaving badly, with a few increasingly powerful tyrants watching over the herd to prevent the worst abuses, and allowing these people the freedom to behave badly on a daily basis. No one beyond the borders cares anymore. They have moved on, and the drama is complete.

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