In school, one of our assigned readings was a fascinating book by Chris Anderson called “The Long Tail.” One principle that has stayed with me to this day is called the “Democratization of Technology.” While I don’t think that Anderson himself coined the phrase, it was a very important theory to his overall thesis. In essence, when a technology first emerges, it is very expensive, and therefore, fewer people can use it. However, as technology evolves and grows, innovators find ways to make said technology cheaper and more accessible. Technology is democratized when it is made available to everyone.
For example, recording music in 1970’s was a long and complicated process that required large machines and extremely skilled engineers. As technology evolved, recording gear became cheaper and more accessible. The democratization of technology in the music means that in 2017, an aspiring artist can buy a laptop, a decent interface and a used mic for less than $2,000. Or, if you’re Prince Harvey, you can sneak into the Apple Store and record your mixtape for free.
As technology has evolved, the growth of the Internet is similar to recording technology. On one hand, people are empowered to express themselves with a lower-buy in. On the other hand, because the technology is so accessible, a great deal of people are empowered to express themselves freely, without filters or without responsibility. Along with the anonymity that comes with the Internet, this freedom to express one’s self without filter has created something that I would call the democratization of expression.
The Democratization of Expression
Traditionally, platforms were earned. They were given to the people who could best articulate themselves, backed by informed opinions and platforms that were vetted. The Internet brought about a reformation that has slowly taken the power away from mass media outlets and empowered the little guy to be able to express, write and share their thoughts. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and free publication solutions like Medium, WordPress and Tumblr have made it extremely easy to create platforms with the ability to express oneself.
And express oneself we do.
As I was writing this article, I found myself backtracking and changing my words. At first, I started out with a positive outlook, expecting the readers to heed the warnings, and think twice before they post online. And then Donald Trump was inaugurated. Very quickly, I noticed more and more intolerance and hate fill my timelines. Eventually, I put together a second draft that was focused on appealing to my generation to be more loving and balanced. And then there was that time Ben Carson said that African Slaves were immigrants (over-simplification, I know, but my point stands).
How would I describe the Internet today? Without sounding too negative, it appears that social media has bred a “I know everything” approach that frequently prevents us from engaging online content with an attitude that desires to learn, grow and even disagree with respect.
Instead, we often read pieces that only enforce what we already believe. We sell ourselves stereotypes of people who we disagree with. We twist and invent data to match our angle. Ultimately, this has created a hostile environment where people rarely communicate without grace or humility.
If you’re looking for academic research, we’ve discovered that many of us often don’t base our views on facts. If you’re looking for concrete examples in the wild, I would suggest you visit Youtube.com and read through a comment section for three minutes. The comment sections on websites and Facebook, along with the hyper-rapid expansion of blogs online today, is the greatest example of the democratization of expression. However, just because everyone CAN say something, does it mean that we should?
The Democratization of Humility
The way forward hit me this morning when I read an article by Trevin Wax titled “I Wish Christians Would Argue More.” If I could copy and paste this whole article, I would, but I doubt SOHH would be okay with that. What Wax calls “civility” in our ability to argue well online, I would rephrase as humility — something we’re all in desperate need of as we seek to find a better way forward.
It is plain to see that schism and tribes rooted in common values is something that has existed forever. However, what hurts my heart is that my generation has taken this to the extreme, even with open and untethered access to so much information. If we’re to move forward, my charge to my peers is that we need to democratize humility.
In the same way that the availability of technology has shifted how we live, what would it look like if we made humility available to everyone?
Humility reaches out to a generation hungry for community and growth and says “Let’s grow together. Even if we disagree, we can do it together.”
Humility reaches out to a people who have unlimited access to a wealth of knowledge, literally at our fingertips, and says “Just because we know a lot doesn’t mean we know what do with it.”
Humility says “just because I can comment, doesn’t mean I should.”
Humility prevents us from assuming the worst, but rather says “I might not be correctly understanding this person, perhaps I need to ask more questions.”
Humility breeds compassion and says “the person on the other side of that screen is a real human being, who just like me, might be working out their opinion live for the world to read.”
Humility slows us down and says “let me read this person’s comment and really consider what they might be saying, instead of adding in what my ‘superior’ mind is assuming.”
Humility helps us to be realistic and shows that perhaps the Internet might not be the best place for this conversation, but perhaps over a coffee where I can see and feel for myself.
I want to democratize humility. Will you join me?