Life often dishes out irony as if humans required it for sustenance. I began this class thinking myself a digital native, although I had yet to hear the term. Working for major software corporation for many years, I ran successful Content Management and Collaboration technology consulting practices that helped our customers take advantage of web technologies and thought myself well-versed in the implications of digital communication on things like security, identity, brand, presence, and other dimensions of the implementation discussion. I expected to come into this class and excel simply based on the fact that this was a realm I understood and I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. For while my understanding was perhaps sufficient to help a customer address a need, I missed the big picture that a solid theoretical foundation provides. In addition, I could have likely added far more value to my customers by helping them think through the implications of digital media on their business, relationships with customers, relationships with partners, and opportunities and risk to their brand reputation. Life is full of ironies.
During the course, I started a blog to chronicle my personal journey to graduate with honors, but more importantly as a personal exploration of digital media, and found myself grappling with issues I had previously only encountered as a thought experiment during the class; a powerful way to learn, indeed (Rock, 2011a).
There are a number of perspectives that have influenced my thinking during the course. I was struck by the simplicity and elegance of Symbolic Interactionism as a theoretical framework, and because it leads to an important philosophical question about the growth of meaning; how will humanity transform as the volume of interactions grow exponentially as the rest of the world joins the network? In the past, interactions tended largely to be bound in both time and space and now neither is true, there are very few boundaries in the virtual world.
Social shaping of technology is another theoretical perspective that influenced me during the course. I believe there are deterministic elements of technology that ties to the capabilities that technology affords, and yet observe that often people use technology in ways that designers never envisioned. Who would have thought during design that Twitter could help overturn an authoritarian regime? From a purely business point of view, social shaping theory means that we in the software engineering business need to pay close attention to how our products are used.
Of course, the question that most dominated my thoughts during the course was the democratic nature of the medium. The Arab Spring opened my eyes to the fact that something very different was happening in the world and digital media was at the center of it. I realized very quickly, that digital media was having profound implications on humanity and wondered at the implications for family, my business, nations, and myself. It appears to me that Internet and the World Wide Web are significantly shifting the balance of power between individuals, minorities, and dominant hierarchies and believe that humanity may be on the cusp of a new understanding of what it means to be human. Long have our differences been used as a means of controlling access to resources and our entire system of economics is based on that idea. I think that the Web is going to give us an opportunity to rethink what it means to be human and how to share. I know that others see the Web as simply a reflection of humanity, but I do not ascribe to that view because the balance of power is changing, myths are being exposed for what they are, and once dominant entities have given way, while others continue to fight. It may sound like I am subscribing to some utopian view, and in the end, perhaps I am. However, throughout history, most power struggles have been violent, and if we look to the example of Libya, this power struggle between Netizens and the dominant hierarchies that control them has the same potential. I am a firm believer that the natural state of humanity is freedom and so the idea of such a powerful equalizing force appeals strongly to my ideals.