Eric Enno Tamm sacrificed a brilliantly sunny Saturday to attend Northern Voice, a blogging and social media conference in Vancouver, and reports on how a new "ecology of information" could redefine how we do business.
One of the most provocative speakers at Northern Voice—at least in terms of how social media can turn our current business model on its head—was Nora Young. She's the host of CBC's Spark, a blog/radio show/podcast about technology and culture.
Young explained how new social media or Web 2.0 tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, GPS, Digg, Flickr, blogs, iPhones, digital tagging, etc are creating a new “ecology of information.” Gone are the days of information scarcity and centralized mass media. We are in a networked world in which the possibilities for collecting, analyzing, sharing, aggregating, storing and broadcasting information are endless.
Young made a fascinating point that may have huge implications on moving our industrial economy from a model focused on production—that is manufacturing stuff—to a more sustainable, service-oriented economy. That might be good news for the planet since industrial production is often more energy and resource intensive than the service economy.
Young believes social media could lead to a society where we produce less, but share more. We are seeing the emergence of an “Internet of things,” whereby objects located in our physical world are digitally tagged or even tracked using GPS and connected to the virtual world via mobile devices. Cellphones such as Blackberries and iPhones are creating "mobiquity," a society where information mobility is ubiquitous. This is making us connected to our physical world like never before.
As Young sees it, this "mobiquity" and social media could alter our consumption patterns. Instead of constantly buying more stuff, we’ll be able to use social media to share, borrow or rent the things we occassionally need.
Here’s an example that Young shared: If you are doing home renovations, why would you purchase a drill just to use it once? In fact, most people who own a drill only use it for a few hours a month at most. The web, GPS and digitally tagging physical items may mean that in the future there may be Internet-based exchanges where you can find and borrow or rent items locally. Social media will allow you to connect with the nearby owner of a drill, for example, which you could rent for a few hours.
As Young pointed out, car-sharing companies already use this model. Instead of buying a car, customers rent a car for a few hours a week. Ecotrust Canada is a member of the Vancouver Cooperative Auto Network. Online booking and payment and Google maps make it incredibly easy to find a Co-op car and book it at the drop of a hat. Can you imagine a future where we might rent tools from an online do-it-yourself or gardening co-op?
The point is that our old economic model is based on individual consumer purchasing while social media provides new possibilities for collective sharing through online service exchanges.