Obama, Tribes, and Social Networking
By billy.cripe on Jan 20, 2009
I hope you were able to watch (or read) President Obama's Inaugural address. As someone passionate about Web and Enterprise 2.0, I was immediately struck by the following portion of his speech (emphasis is mine):
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.Read that bold part again - "...we cannot help but believe...that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve..."
This flys in the face of the huge swell of social network adoption around the world. Social graphs are the new tribes. The technology enables quick and easy formation of tribes (or communities of passion, or affinity maps, or networks of loose and strong connections). In fact, it is this very facility which draws so many to the technology. No longer are our tribes (fully) described and bracketed by familial ties or geographic boundaries or doctrine (though those are still part of the tribal bonds even in the digital world). Rather our tribal invitations are cast globally and members without traditional tribal bonds are welcomed in.
While tribes are growing (not dissolving) it is also apparent that tribes are not all affable knitting circle types (though there is probably a Facebook cause and LinkedIn group for knitting somewhere). Take one look at the digital tribal warfare (flame wars, trolling etc) between opposing Open Source communities or even between the Mac and PC tribes. Take a look at the iPod vs Zune tribes (read the message boards if you're interested) or the Republican and Democrat tribes online. Some have attributed Obama's radical campaign successes to a better mobilization of his digital tribe(s) (see some of Seth Godin's writing on the topic).
Unfortunately, for all the promise that Social Networking technology holds, there is also a dark side. It should come as no surprise that terrorists are using the technology to link together for their dark purposes. The important thing to realize is that the technology is able to link people in tribes that would not have otherwise come together.
In all, tribes, communities of passion, affinity graphs and other interpersonal connections have great promise as well as risk. Rather than envision their dissolution, we should strive for their unfettered adoption then put them to work for the purposes of hope and change - something President Obama is very much for.