We are currently experiencing the dawn of a new Age of Enlightenment. The social media revolution (yes, it is a revolution since it shakes and changes existing rules, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and also threatens the existence of old institutions) shows very similar characteristics as the Age of Enlightenment that started in the 18th century. Here are some excepts from Wikipedia:
- The Enlightenment is held to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy, and reason as primary values of society.
- In his famous essay "What is Enlightenment?" (1784), Immanuel Kant described it simply as freedom to use one's own intelligence.
- One of the primary elements of the cultural interpretation of the Enlightenment is the rise of the public sphere in Europe...a “realm of communication marked by new arenas of debate, more open and accessible forms of urban public space and sociability, and an explosion of print culture"...its members held reason to be supreme; everything was open to criticism (the public sphere is critical); and its participants opposed secrecy of all sorts
- ...those areas of political/social knowledge and discussion that were previously the exclusive territory of the state and religious authorities, now open to critical examination by the public sphere
I think it is pretty easy to draw parallels between the Age of Enlightment and the current period in human history.
- We continue to value freedom, democracy, and reason, but we also emphasize additional values such as trust, sharing, openness and transparency.
- The availability, usability and reach of today's web-based communication tools have given us the freedom not only to use your own intelligence, but also to more easily make use of the intelligence of others as well as to contribute to a collective intelligence.
- The public sphere that has been created with the web as platforms knows no borders and have almost no barriers to entry. The blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook are examples of new arenas of debate and exchange which are more open, accessible, interactive and scalable than any public spheres previously existing. We have seen an explosion of user-generated digital content which is shared in these arenas where everything is open to criticism and can be commented on, rated, reviewed and recommended to others. We also oppose secrecy of all sorts, with transparency being a key value.
- The discussions that were previously initiated, hosted and moderated by the media can now be critically examined and commented on by anyone. Anyone can also initiate, host and moderate discussions. We are no dependant on the platforms for debate offered by media institutions.