Here is my favorite image of the Les Blogs conference: this cartoon drawn on the back of my namecard by Hugh McLeod. I have enjoyed his blog tremendously since I discovered it a year and a half ago or so. He nails it on the head when it comes to the future of marketing, micro-branding and personal branding. During his panel Tuesday he talked about how blogs enable us to free our personal image or "personal brand" from the identities of the companies and organizations we work for. As he put it: "We have these identities that transcend our jobs, which is very good because most jobs suck."
He described the web as no longer a succession of pages but a "conversation stream" or "event stream," enabling individuals and companies to enter into a more direct conversation. "In next 10 years the whole idea of the consumer economy will shift and we'll be calling it a participant economy." He also believes a new model of civics will emerge as a result of this transformation. Citizens' media, says Salim Ismail of PubSub, sitting on his right, makes it "impossible for corporations to manage their message."
They're right. Companies - and increasingly I believe governments - can no longer control their messages. Their employees' reputations and identities (and thus market value) are less dependent on employers. Citizens' identities may also become more independent of their governments' national "branding."
Ben Hammersley gave a very provocative talk about the future. (Provocative not only because he was wearing a kilt!) He believes "We are on the tipping point of the next step in the evolution of human society." Ethan blogged an excellent summary of it here.
I must admit, I don't believe that technology - or anything else for that matter - is going to enable human beings to transcend our fundamentally flawed human nature. I tend to feel that we're better off if we plan for the future based on the assumption that human capacity for evil and stupidity will remain pretty much constant, and then make sure to build in the requisite institutions and systems to protect ourselves from the dark side of our own nature.
Yat Siu of Outblaze made some really good points about how a lot of these conferences make assumptions about the future of technology based on the assumption that it will emerge from a Western cultural context - which is a wrong assumption, given that soon the largest group of internet users in the world will be Chinese, and given that Northeast Asian companies and consumers will increasingly be driving information technologies of the future.
In our Monday afternoon media & blogging panel, both Ethan and I raised the point that you can't assume that a more democratic society will result just because blogs have emerged. Censorship technologies can be baked into the software and hardware, and people in some online communities exercise a great deal of self-censorship. You also see waves of nationalism and polarization emerging in some blogospheres, which can lead to tyrannies of the majority and herd mentalities - which are not particularly conducive to democratic discourse.
Yes, I agree that information technology and citizens' media are powerful tools - that's why I quit my job in TV to build an international blogging community. World-changing things can be done with these tools. But I believe that truly world-changing solutions can only be the result of concerted human efforts to be less selfish and evil. We cannot sit back and expect technology to do our work for us. If we want the world to be better, we must reach out to other human beings outside our immediate comfortable circle. And human effort - assisted by technology - is ultimately what Global Voices is all about.