It is tempting to look at platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and see them as mildly irritating teenagers that have yet to grow up, develop adult sensibilities and start conforming to the realities of the real world. Many journalists, judges and politicians take this view I believe. It is rather less comfortable to imagine Facebook and Twitter as the vanguard of something that is going to remake the world and change its realities. But social media is going to do this and outlined below are the reasons.

 

The big shift

For 600 years we have lived in a world where distributing information was expensive and our approach to managing information was therefore restrictive. Information was a scare and precious resource because the channels it had to live within made it so. News was edited down into 30 second segments, marketing was edited down into 30 second ads and trust was imprisoned within institutionalized mediators (news organizations, banks, universities, encyclopaedias). The big shift has happened because social media liberates information from restrictive means of distribution — it has meant that information has become free in both a monetary sense and a mobility sense — and this is why lots of things are going to change.

 

Why trust is changing

We live in a society where most of the available trust lives in institutions — brands, banks, governments, universities. The reason we do this goes back to Gutenberg and his printing press. Before Gutenberg, it was harder to trust. People either had to rely upon individual experience or upon forms of tradition and practice, most of which had their roots in forms of oral culture. Gutenberg created a print culture and what this did was allow us to trust things which lay outside of the narrow boundaries of personal experience (as well as questioning our trust in the hitherto established traditions and practices). In effect, printing made it possible to start to build reputation amongst audiences of people. Put another way, printing allowed us to add scale to trust. The catch was that the tools needed to do this — the tools of publication — were expensive and thus could only live within the hands of institutions (or rather institutions such as the media, evolved in order to exploit the opportunity these tools presented).

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