The internet facilitates a lot of amazing things. It allows you to read my words, have an unlimited jukebox at YouTube, trade epic Rage Comics, LOLCats, p0wn newbz on XBox Live, and watch awesome viral marketing ads like this (rated R). It has changed social interaction, as it has significantly reduced the tyranny of distance. Though, what hasn’t changed are a lot of the things you’ll find outside your window, or how humans inherently treat power once they have it.
Roundabouts are a good analogy for what the internet can and cannot do. Mostly uncommon in the States, I had very little practice with them prior to moving to Europe. At first the merging methodology of roundabouts befuddled me, and I didn’t much care for them. Now with six months of practice under my belt, I wish we had more of them in the States, they’re simply brilliant and better than ‘normal’ intersections. Realizing this, I asked myself why, with the power of the internet to exchange ideas; why hasn’t the notion (or meme) of roundabouts caught on in the States? The answer I come to is that while the internet can expose a person to ideas, it doesn’t change the cognitive patter of the individual enough to change behavior, that there is an environmental component to any behavioral change. To me this is the waterline, where the power of the internet ends.
The power of the internet is the memes that move across it. I don’t just mean LOLCats, or anything concocted by the trolls at 4Chan. I mean that everything you see online is a meme or a meta-meme. The roundabout meme cannot make a person adapt to roundabouts in real life any easier. The person has to physically experience a roundabout to adapt and even appreciate it.
This fact seems largely lost on most people who make their living with Social Media, as well as give a false sense of ‘this time it’s different’ in geopolitics.
CAIRO — Egypt will not allow international groups to monitor its upcoming parliamentary election, the country’s military rulers announced Wednesday, echoing ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s argument that foreign electoral oversight would be an affront to Egyptian sovereignty.
Yes, the Arab Spring used the internet and Social Media to spread the sense of revolution and motivate people to take to the streets. But, it hasn’t changed the basic human paradigm of what it is to hold power and what it takes to change who holds power. This is the internet’s waterline in terms of the Arab Spring.
Am I saying that the hopes of many in regards to the Arab Spring are foolish? No, I am not. What I am saying is that the internet will not change the behavior of those in power alone. Behavior is as much a function of one’s environment as it is the memes they have been exposed to. The undue focus that has been paid to Social Media in the Arab Spring neglects the affect that environment has on behavior. It is not a bold new age we’re in because of the internet and its memes.