Amplified Individuals in the Cloud

Some social media discussions may be getting a bit tired and inward looking, as I wrote here. However, events and meetings over the past couple of weeks have given me a fresh boost of energy and optimism. At the heart of this is the very obvious idea of focussing on the individual, not the tools, and what people want to achieve. Why has it taken me so long to reconnect with that? Too many shiny toys and apps, perhaps.

Social media is only innovative, empowering etc etc if people use it to connect for a purpose. As Chris Brogan puts it, Pursue the Goal not the Method.

In addition, the tools are not useful unless people adopt the social behaviours to go with them. As @Stevebridger tweeted: “So much of this so-called social media is about change of tone & posture; you can only get better at that by participating yourself”.

So – think purpose, people, behaviours, tools to support that, and places to use the tools.

Places used to be easy … we were all joining the Information Superhighway. Then we were in virtual communities, and networks. Now we have to change the metaphor again, and Rethink networks as passionate clouds.

Charlie Leadbeater has a book to explain it all. He’s expanded the ideas from We think – “how the web is changing our world, creating a culture in which more people than ever can participate, share and collaborate, ideas and information” – in a new booklet about Cloud Culture.

As cloud computing comes of age, our links to one another will be increasingly routed through a vast shared “cloud” of data and software. These clouds, supported by huge server farms all over the world, will allow us to access data from many devices, not just computers; to use programs only when we need them and to share expensive resources such as servers more efficiently. Instead of linking to one another through a dumb, decentralised network, we will all be linking to and through shared clouds.

Which raises the question: whose clouds will these be?

Cloud computing is bringing with it “cloud capitalism”. Companies will make money from organising these clouds for us. Apple already is, with its iTunes cloud of music and its cloud of thousands of third-party apps to run on the iPhone. Cloud computing will also bring a kind of cloud culture: increasingly, we will express ourselves through these clouds of films, videos, pictures, books, stories and music.

This time it isn’t all good news, because much of this may be controlled by Cloud Capitalists, and “if we are not vigilant, we will find our culture will belong to corporations and governments, rather than us.”

I went along to the launch of the booklet, and enlisted the help of technology writer Bill Thompson in securing an interview with Charlie in the bar. Despite the noise, I think that Bill and Charlie make a great job of explaining what this is all about, as you can see above.

I mention the Cloud, and the changed metaphor, because it is no longer good enough to have something like the European Computer Driving Licence to survive and prosper in the online world. You need a much wider set of skills. But what are they?

That’s where a trip to Leicester brought enlightenment and inspiration. Over the past six months Sue Thomas and the team at Amplified Leicester have been working with local people on the idea and practice of the Amplified Individual. The Institute for the Future, Palo Alto, California, suggests amplified workers will need to be highly social, highly collective, highly improvisional, and highly augmented. (Report download)

I met up last week with Sue, and colleagues Rav Kaur and Ash Brown, for an explanation of how these ideas have been applied in the project.

All this may seem a bit theoretical, but what gives it practical application are the social innovation workshops developed by the SI Camp team and others using similar formats. After pioneering work during 2007-08 they are now running mini-events. I was delighted to be invited along to an SI Express recently held in London, where I did some video reporting. After initial brainstorming of ideas, teams rapidly developed plans for dealing with snow, social isolation, safer road crossings and shared spaces.

In March I’ll be helping run a social innovation workshop with the Amplified group in Leicester, reflecting on their work so far, where they may go next as a group – and how they might share their experience with other towns. I’ll also be co-facilitating a workshop In Kent with Amy Sample Ward, where the County Council is bring together people from local community groups and tech-enthusiasts to develop ideas for online public services of the future.

We won’t necessarily use the same format as SI Express, but the principle will be the same: focus on the individual and the small group, provide technical support, and trust them to come up with good ideas.

I’ve pitched similar ideas about Amplified Individuals into discussion about the ways that the RSA might develop its membership: how about Amplified Fellows?

I first came across the idea of Amplification back in 2008, at an event at NESTA. It was organised by Toby Moores, who has also been working with Sue. At the time I was a bit sceptical – amplification for what? Just more stuff in the cloud? It’s now all starting to make sense.

If all that weren’t enough excitement, the idea of the the Amplified Individual in the Cloud provides a strong rationale for the social reporter.  In the fog you need someone to make Sense, Be Positive, Help out.

Oh, and Be Critical too. Anyone got some better metaphors than Clouds and Amplification?

One comment

  • February 22, 2010 - 10:17 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the plug for

    Your comment about needing to focus on social behaviours before social tools reminds me of what @redjotter said at the #mypublicservices event

    “Transformation isn’t just about transforming services, it’s about transforming ourselves, it’s a new way of thinking, it’s a new mindset”.

    It also reminds me of a rather more provocative interview on the risk of mob mentality of social media

    Do we need social accountability, so we can make sure cloud capitalists don’t use our goodwill to control monopolies, organisations who claim they’re social are open to more workplace democracy and hey, us too as individuals are challenging ourselves to change by the behaviours these tools have enabled.

    Could social reporting play a role have in this, what other techniques are people using to make this happen?

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