Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From Social Networking to Nation Building: Five Points of Positive Transformation

The last decade has been an epoch making decade for social networking. Initial e mail chat and messenger platforms got soon overwhelmed with more powerful and people-savvy social network sites such as Facebook, Orkut, Twitter and more lately Google+. The power of these new social networking platforms is enormous. There are at present over two hundred social media sites. Amongst these, the Top 15 account for over 1.3 billion estimated unique monthly visitors as per the surveys. Facebook alone has reportedly over 700 million user traffic per month while Twitter has 200 million user traffic per month. The newly launched Google+ has signed up 32 million user traffic in just 4 months of launch. With the ownership and use of moblile and smart phones growing rapidly, with tablets taking on new media connectivity roles, and with the social media sites directly linked onto smart phones and tablet devices, it is easy to imagine that social networking would have nothing but an exponential growth rate in the years to come.

In addition, these social media networks have become wonderful vehicles to connect with and follow leaders from all walks of life. Equally significantly, Facebook and Twitter have become platforms for business communication and marketing too, with virtually every big corporation having a Facebook or Twitter account. Given their enormous potential for instant and expanding connectivity, these sites have been carriers of landmark events and happenings around the world. They have also been the triggers and propagators for certain unique political and social movements that have swayed the world in recent times. Though there have been privacy and other concerns relating to some of the sites, it appears that social networking has come to be established as an irreversible phenomenon of this decade, and probably of the several decades to come as well.

Underlying motivators

The enormous popularity of these social networking sites has been due to five basic behavioral underpinnings of the new age intellectuals. The new generation has an unprecedented urge to connect and communicate, and the social media, devices and sites have been perfect platforms for that. The author of this blog post has identified five essential drivers of individual dispositions and behaviors. These are: See the Face, Share the Past, Explore the Uncertain, Bridge the Distance and Form the Community. Each of these five trends has significant implications.

See the Face

The new Gen-X individual is neither shy nor discrete. He or she loves to be seen and heard. He or she has few privacy concerns, if at all, and revels in disclosures that profile him or her on multiple dimensions. This enables a level of trust and transparency that leads to virtual friendship in most cases, despite the real threats of misuse of privacy data that exist.

Share the Past

While past is no predictor of future, one's past is a great builder of future bonds. The social networking sites, especially Facebook, have as their unique proposition an ability to mine the past to suggest connectivity. Equally, the social enthusiasts post their past experiences and photographs on their walls, providing a solid foundation of shared experiences and evolutions on which new superstructures can be built.

Explore the Uncertain

While the adage goes that face is the index of the mind, any entrant to social networks is essentially an adventurist. He or she would be connecting with persons whose real antecedents and motivations can rarely be accurately verified. That said, what the patrons of the social networking sites bring to the table is a willingness to explore the uncertain, an essential requirement of the quest for progress.

Bridge the Distance

With the growth of social networking, distance has ceased to be a separator. In fact, one may hypothesize that the farther one is the closer one becomes. The ability of the hardware technologies and the power of the operating systems of the modern connectivity devices and platforms have together made audio-visual meetings a common place happening. Text the Talk is the new mantra that keeps the new generation connect seamlessly across boundaries and oceans.

Form the Community

All these behavioral trends naturally help the users of social networking sites become communities based on certain dimensions of their choice. The power of these communities lies in their common diaspora as much as in their diversity. These communities, therefore, tend to be philosophically robust with cross-cultural and cross-functional enrichments. In many ways, these communities tend to be modern age icons of unity in diversity.

Social moorings, national perspectives

Given that the social networking phenomenon has unleashed such a massive transformation in global connectivity it is apt and opportune to explore what else can be done with the enormous "social energy" that is created. No doubt, this phenomenon has led to the individual participants discover more meaning in their lives and the business participants achieve greater reach in the social base. At the same time, like the energy of the mighty oceans, the energy of the formidable social networks is often idled, if not wasted, through non-value adding activities. Social scientists even hold that these have become obsessive diversions from other productive activities while some medical specialists hold that the Internet addiction to be a clinical disorder. That said, neither the march of technology nor progress of connectivity can be undone; rather creative ways must be found to channel the enormous social energy on the Internet that is the order of the day.

One very relevant channel to direct the social energy would be national missions initially, followed up with global visions. As some of the recent social campaigns have shown, the young and the intelligent have a huge stake in how societies, economies and nations would shape up. This requirement can only be more profound in India than in any nation given that India would have the youngest and largest demographic profile globally for the next several decades. The vision of India racing to be the third largest global economic power by 2035 is tempered by the multitudes of social, economic and industrial inequities and constraints that India has to grapple with.

Rational thoughts, national missions

One can think of several national missions which the social networking communities can contribute to. Enhancing online education, including support systems for parents and educational institutions, especially at primary and secondary levels could be one important, in fact the first and foremost, national mission. Providing market and technology outreach for micro and small enterprises could be a second critical mission that could promote self-reliance and entrepreneurship. Development of national policy initiatives and programs based on community experiences could be a third important mission. Open source collaboration for upgradation of industrial products and business services could be a fourth mission. Cultural transformation to attain the highest levels of national comparative advantage in terms of innovation, quality and productivity, on the lines of Japan, could be a fifth vital mission.

Making India an equitable, safe, ecologically conscious welfare state could be the sixth important national mission. Women empowerment in all walks of life and enabling them to assume leadership roles in the business and industry could be the seventh mission. Agrarian uplift, enabling the indigent farmer, manage a positive rural economy is the eight mission. Geriatric care with healthcare taken up by voluntary and government contributions is very much a need of the hour. And finally, balanced child nutrition, including, free food for all indigent day care babies and school going children would boost the nation's health and literacy levels even further.

Five points of transformation

The ten national missions may seem overwhelming at first sight but can be tackled by mass voluntary drive of the educated and employed population, which characterizes the core of the social networking movement. This, however, requires a paradigm shift in the approach to, and use of, social networking. We have considered that the current social networking phenomenon is driven by five individual behavioral patterns: See the Face, Explore the Uncertain, Share the Past, Bridge the Distance and Form the Community. While these would continue to drive the social networking phenomenon, expansion of the network to create even greater levels of social energy and focused channeling of the social energy to national missions would require five additional behavioral underpinnings. These are: Absorb the Mission, Share the Passion, Innovate the Future, Bridge the Divide and Institutionalize the Change.

Absorb the Mission

It is important that socially conscious and nationally driven social citizens of the Net give wide exposure to national missions. The Times Group of India launched a Teach India awareness and voluntary participation campaign to a considerable degree of success. The above ten national missions with further detailing could become significant value propositions. Collaborating with the social networking sites for additional infrastructure and visibility support can help the social netizens see and absorb the national missions.

Share the Passion

If the current social networking is driven by an enthusiasm to connect and belong, the national missions can be fulfilled only by a passion to contribute to national upliftment. This would require that the networked citizens understand and analyze their own competencies and capabilities and are fired by a passion to share these with the needy country men and women. Such passion should be shared by the discrete communities so that the ability to contribute is reinforced.

Innovate the Future

Visibility and passion need to be supplemented with innovation to fulfill the missions. Conventional thinking and traditional structures as well as existing products and services are unlikely to be either time-efficient or cost-effective for social netizens to contribute. Creation of dedicated portals, tie-ups with device makers, development of customized products, dissemination of case studies could all add up to a powerful impact. In addition, more open source technology platforms could provide a great fillip to national innovation.

Bridge the Divide

National missions ought to fulfill two important purposes. Firstly, they must enable, empower, and enrich the downtrodden and needy members of the society, strengthening the social firmament. Secondly, they must reinforce the competitive and comparative advantages of the nation on par with the best in the world. The first objective to a large measure would support the second objective but the second objective would also require a much larger spread in the industry and the economy. Clearly, network communities must channel themselves into dedicated missions as well as target groups to achieve optimal impact.

Institutionalize the Change

Nation building cannot be a onetime initiative in time. Given the global coupling and given also the endeavors by other BRICS and MINT nations to compete in the global arena even while the developed blocks of USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan seek to retain their edge, nation building has to be a continuous movement. Also, each positive change must be institutionalized and new changes systemically integrated. Korea is a fine example of fulfillment of national missions and their institutionalization thereof.

Finite time, infinite options

One of the striking features of the modern day globally networked world is the myriad number of industrial, business, social and economic options that arise each day. The world is also characterized by an increasing emphasis on entertainment, media and services. As a result, manufacturing and agriculture seem to be losing their share in the economy. At the same time, a greater proportion of the young and mobile population is getting increasingly obsessed with lifestyle activities and entertainment technologies. While even such leisure time activities require and generate their own cascades of industrial and economic activities, it is important that a nation maintains a balanced mix of all sectors. The socially networked youth also requires to develop its own balance of aptitude for multiple technologies and avocations.

Under the paradigm suggested herein, the social netizens would need to display an innovation, quality and productivity driven mind-set of nation building through fulfillment of critical national missions. Rather than merely be overawed by the time consuming and entertaining nature of the social networking technologies and sites, the young generation should, at the minimum, use a certain part of their 'facebook' time for nationally productive activities and at the optimum question themselves as to why the smart, cyber-navigating generation of India cannot have their own Facebooks, Twitters and Google+s for national competitiveness.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on November 22, 2011.

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