by Ray Podder
Ray Podder lives for dreaming up the next ideas to make our lives easier, more enjoyable, more connected to each other and hopefully much better than before. He uses his perspective as marketer, designer, strategist and entrepreneur to create the when, now.
What if anything and everything you owned, knew, thought, created or used was negotiable at any point in time? What if you could sell off your junk, get compensated for your opinions, or lend, borrow and bet without the need for banks or governments? What if your creative product had a larger audience than corporate networks? What if your lone dissident voice couldn’t be silenced even by the rich and powerful?
Before you think this is a utopian scenario, you might want to check out online tools like Zopa, Fundable, SwapTree, Me.dium, SecondLife, ScreenBites and other potential previews to the social changes on the horizon.
As of now, the few still rule the many by beautifully spun stories about how wonderful it is to be “consumers”, “patriots” and other types of obedient supporters. You know, the stories that make us believe that everyone is “equal” in a democracy or that “anyone” can be wealthy if they work hard enough... But what happens when the communication tools and technologies that maintained their respective positions become available to everyone?
Today, individuals are beginning to have more influence than the media machine, create more value with less investment and thus compete more efficiently at the same game with corporate giants. Governments are even less efficient than corporations and the stress of losing their economic controls to globalization is already starting to show. So while the idea of true self sovereignty at this point in time may be arguable, the evidence towards the trend can hardly be ignored.
Voices at the edges have already spoken about flat worlds and long tails and even the death of advertising and branding, but is that what is really happening? Is branding or advertising really dead, or like blogs did they too become tools available to all of us?
Both advertising and branding sophistication is available to everyone now. Beyond the tools that build reputations or defends them, have you also noticed how we describe our professional selves today? From the “Ace of Cakes” to a “Change Agent”, the “Brand Me” world has now hit the mainstream. In fact, it’s easier for multinational brands to behave like an individual challengers than try to hold on to yesterday’s strategies and global marketing principles.
If the leverage of communication and information is indeed ubiquitous, is it such a bad idea to prepare for a new, bolder reality of a world led by the escalating influence of empowered individuals? Individuals who now define social groups outside of their geographic boundaries, decide which factors are critical to determining value, and determine loyalty and allegiance by their own standards. These powerful influencers of everything from commerce, culture, governance and even society by rules of their choosing?
So what’s actually changed and how do we adapt to it?
For starters, we’re all participants now. The term “consumer” had implied a one way relationship. The proliferation of multi-sided communication possibilities of the Internet creates three dimensional relationships. Instead of the one way flow of mass marketing, it’s a many to many network paradigm of participation.
As we upload clips on YouTube, mashup our travel videos with music licensed from RumbleFish and get paid with Metacafe Producer Rewards or as a Squidoo Lensmaster, we’re already becoming producers, creators, recommenders, collaborators, marketers and more depending on where we happen to participate in the market ecosystem at any given point in time.
That’s just the beginning of what the value potential of our actions and thought product might be. When anyone can become a passive influencer simply by placing a digital widget on their personal website or their mobile profile, the exponential implications are mind boggling. Just as no action in nature is wasted, a similar value equation to human participation might become reality sooner than we think.
In the near future, everything we do can have a value and thus anything we do, say, think or create become potentially negotiable. Why? Because technology amplifies human behaviors and motivations which can create situations and opportunities previously non-existent.
Human motivators are amplified by technology. Universal human motivators like the desire for significance, the need for authority, the need for clarity amidst chaos, the need for community and the need for security are fundamental for most of us. The interesting part is that these basic conditions are only amplified when the access to networked communications are readily available. For example, blogging and social networking profiles amplify the individual need for significance. Job seekers are enabled to blast resumes, individuals to create storefronts on Ebay from their basements, and both the MySpace and Eons crowd can broadcast their life events online with ease. Similarly, just as the need for significance or recognition is amplified, so is the need for anonymity and security by services like IdentitySweep and VTunnel.
The vote is finally real. If you’ve ever visited Digg, you already see the new eDemocracy in action. By making individual preferences measurable, otherwise insignificant information can enjoy network endorsed credibility by those who also care about the same topics. Measurable human actions, validated by other humans rather than the impersonal algorithms of earlier ranking systems such as search engines, amplifies accountability like never before. Democratic voting systems incorporate both mass popularity as well as peer approval such as ratings on RapLeaf. While its true that political systems are still struggling with the process, a quiet evolution of choice accountability is already questioning the existing systems and their ineffectiveness. It is quite conceivable that real-time democracy can now be put into action for not just commerce, but cultural and governance options as well.
Personalized is the new digital. As of last week there were 100 million websites. Choosing digestible chunks of all of this is daunting at best. Recommendations become more efficient than exploration for most people and “found” is fast becoming the new search. At the same time, advances in both visual and natural language search are giving new tools for explorers.
The need to personalize this complexity into a consolidated, easy to use centralized location is likely to be the most significant aspect managing our newly anointed sovereignty. Simplifying and managing these cyber-extensions of our online consciousness will obviously require new tools still to be imagined. Personalized start page types of environments like those offered by Google, Yahoo, YourMinis, PageFlakes and others are now the predecessors of the personal digital assistants yet to accommodate our self-styled avatars.
It will ultimately be about our ongoing questions answered with tools that we’ve decided to implement. Much like how what we choose to believe in the physical world determine which ideas we hold on to.
At first, it may seem strange to think that you could be on the same level playing field as a multinational corporation, but just consider how business and customers co-exist in networked spaces. As of now, we both get our basic queries and network trend data from the same place. Pending the Net Neutrality power struggle and censorship issues of the moment, the deeper resources of the Internet will likely become available to everyone as well. Given the probability of that reality and the other factors previously mentioned what do we do to use this shift to our advantage both as individuals and as companies?
Enable the empowered. Marketing is no longer about messages. It’s about motivation. If you want to motivate the new sovereignty, reach them by the tools they will use to refine their participation power. That means be available as choices for personalization on start-page like environments where choosing your brand of service is a self-defining action. For example, if you deliver travel services, then the new sovereign citizen is both your traveler and your travel agent. If you sell art then the new sovereign citizen is your art promoter, using your art in experiential ways to define their personal spaces.
Today, we are at a tipping point before the next versions of these types of tools mentioned go mainstream. Most people don’t use them as extensively as the early adopters like me for good reason. They take too much effort and exploration to incorporate into our already busy lives. Though adoption and integration of new tools take time, the pace of it is quickening faster than ever. The next innovations to make them simpler, intuitive and infinitely plug-and-playable will increase their value to the sovereign, and thus you.
Put more in, get more out. In real life, you get out of it what you’re willing to put in to it. The networked world of the sovereign citizen is no different. As technology amplifies human interaction it amplifies the expression of human need. When positive contribution like referrals and content are monetized through emerging business models, the network of sovereign citizens can also reward back such actions. In other words, if you contribute good stuff, you’ll get more good stuff back than you might in the “unplugged” life. Some emerging examples this type of thinking are already evident in services like FiveLimes and GoodCapital focused on contributing to the greater good.
The Era of the Sovereign Citizen has arrived. It has always been those in power who shape the future. The idea that power has always rested with the people has not only been around for a while, it has fueled both revolutions and reforms. However, the people’s feedback and contribution amplified towards change has never been this powerful in all of recorded history to date.
All of us enhanced by advances represent what the future can actually be. How you use your emerging sovereign status is no longer up to corporations or governments to dictate. M.K. Gandhi had once said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Right now, we’re actually are at an inflection point in history where that sentiment can have a more significant meaning than ever before.