This week three events cemented in my already convinced mind that communications should not be taken for granted by people, companies or countries.
Last week state water minister Ronald Kibuule kicked up a storm for his alleged mistreatment of female security guard who deigned to search the minister on his way into a bank. If the social media crowd had their way the youthful minister would have been quartered and hung out to dry by now. Never mind that they did not have all the information about the incident.
While the minister was being “virtually” pummeled a court in Ireland ordered social media giant Facebook to reveal the identity of Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO) to lawyer Fred Mwema, who is seeking to sue him for defamation.
And finally and even further afield online retailer Amazon reported that it had sold stuff – books, clothes, CDs, DVDS, home appliances worth $59b in the quarter that ended in June. This figure is big enough in itself -- three times the size of the Uganda’s annual economic output, but was more telling was that this figure was six times the size of the next biggest retailers sales in the same period. Retailers like Walmart which employ 2.4 million around the world.
One might think it’s a stretch to have a minister’s woes in little Uganda placed alongside Facebook’s woes and Amazon’s rising fortunes but the thread that runs through these events is power of communications or the storage, analysis and transmission of data and how it is taking, or has taken center stage in everything we do.
Down the ages the evolution of power has gone from being possessed by the strongest man in the cave to the man who could marshal the largest armies and now to the man who can leverage the flow of information.
But beyond possession of information is how a person, company or country leverages the networks that this information goes through.
Think about it if information is power the easier it is to tap into those networks where the information is the more powerful you become. So a person without a mobile phone today is worse of than a person with a 2G phone, who in turn is worse off than a person with a smart phone or other smart devices.
"The greater challenge with this new power is that it is not centralised like the traditional forms of power. It is complex and diffused which makes it difficult to control...
More recently see what happens when a message is taken over by social media and how it takes on a life of its own be it Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe stumbling or President Yoweri Museveni taking a call on the road side or even Usain Bolt smiling his way to another sprint win.
Two things are clear these networks while rallying people are around a cause are at the same time diffusing power over the message to thousands of clicking thumbs. As a result the old methods of repression or stifling revolution cannot work.
Kibuule’s woes, the need to muzzle the faceless TVO or the exponential rise of the online retailer
Amazon are just a variation of the same theme and the question for all of us is how to operate in this brave new world which will celebrate you or chew you and spit you out on to the dung heap of history.