Social media and “the great turning” conclusion

Prayer for Peace at Earthdance Vancouver2009

I was shown Paul Potts' first YouTube British Idol audition three years ago. When I and the “hard-core” businessman who showed it to me were both moved to tears, I knew there was something happening on the planet that was new and worldchanging. Since then, social media tools like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have become integral to my life despite huge initial hostility and resistance on my part.


As we humans are a multi-dimensional complexity of existence, I want to address the social media phenomenon on two levels.


Social media tools are changing our world. If the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was an experience of how governmental control and restriction prevented ordinary people from being involved and telling their stories, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games was an opportunity for social media to come to the forefront of our collective storytelling. Unaccredited stories from people through twitters, blogs, photos and videos all added a diverse and rich texture to the Games that were far more reflective of our complexity as humans. These tools afforded the opportunity for every (extra) ordinary person involved to be part of the experience in creating the collective Vancouver Olympic story. At a post-Olympics Social Media Club event, people spoke about their treatment by Vanoc and the IOC shifting from control tactics to welcoming acceptance. At the W2Culture+Media House Olympic open house on February 10, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson used his iPhone and then said, “We are all media.”


The next 2012 Olympics in London has been labeled “the digital media games”. It is expected that social media will be finally embraced and integrated into the experience by the Olympic organizations. The challenge is not allowing the Olympic machine to co-opt and misappropriate social media input as theirs. This is already happening with mainstream traditional media inviting people to post photos, videos, and news items on their media sites.


At a W2Culture+Media House discussion during the Olympics, it was noted that a big part of the Olympic experience was citizen engagement. Ordinary people took ownership of the dialogues happening around emergent social issues and Olympic experiences. Someone else stated that while the battle between developers and activists over social housing had largely been ignored by the mainstream media, the Red Tent and Tent City social media campaigns brought the issue to the forefront. Stephen Hui from the Georgia Strait said that the image of the Red Tent campaign impacted him. He was moved to come out to a Red Tent event and he did a photo gallery on it. James from AdHack shared how he invited citizen participation on an Olympic Flickr page he started and, in two days, 60 photographers contributed 10 photos each. Even though the IOC asserted their ownership of the Olympic rings, many photographs were taken of them by ordinary people and then shared with the world through social media. It was also mentioned that without social media, the Olympics would have just been another experience of Godzilla stomping on another city. In my opinion, one of the most important roles that social media played during the Olympics was witnessing, and so protecting, the many citizen dialogues that emerged in the form of protests.


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