We obeyed authority until WW1, then we respected it, until Vietnam when we challenged it, and now with social media we believe we are it.
Even in countries without democracy, people have direct democracy powers.
However, the winds of change facilitated by the internet and social media did not just blow in an Arab Spring.
A gale is blowing here too. From Obama to Nenshi to Layton, from riots in Vancouver to tossing out the HST and a shale gale breezing from New York through Quebec on its way to France, citizens are flexing their social media muscles.
People are demanding a new relationship with their society. Martin Luther and the printing press freed us from a central authority and led over centuries to a reformation of western culture. The new media is freeing us from expert authority of all kinds and is transforming society in mere decades. It is no longer good enough to be informed people demand a say.
Libertarians celebrate the direct democracy powers and increased freedom for individuals. Others warn of social media driven mobs throwing out the old without contemplation for what replaces it. For under thirties it is not even a change; it is the new normal.
We now feel empowered in many ways. I imagine it is frustrating for a doctor when his expertise and experience says one thing and his patient says ‘but I Googled this.’ Like it or not, he now has a new relationship with his patient. No longer the omniscient paternal doctor he is now a member of our health care circle helping us to decide. This is mostly a good thing but examples of people insisting on their right to unproven or even harmful treatments are in the press regularly.
In industry, especially industries insulated from consumer choices, we are just beginning to learn what this new relationship means for us. In oil & gas we cling to our old model of industry experts talking to Government experts and informing the public what is best for them.
It doesn’t wash with a social media armed public anymore and our social license to operate is at risk. Environmental opportunists strategize on how to blow the shale gale from Quebec to Western Canada and from oil & gas in to mining. Before they succeed industry needs a commitment to culture change on communications similar to our successful culture change after the Exxon Valdez on health & safety.
The new world will be messier. Having a conversation with our consumers is more difficult to control than ‘delivering our messages’. The inevitable personal attacks by political opponents in the main stream media are uncomfortable. However, for a successful balance of environmental and energy policies the public demands we engage.