Thoughts on Us Now

NESTA Connect organised a screening of Us Now this evening, a documentary that looks at how the concept of power is changing in an increasingly collaborative world. Rohan Gunatillake introduced the film by pulling together a tag cloud composed of the names of all the attendees at the event, and a slide that showed images of all those who were bloggers (gave me a bit of a shock to see myself up there, I can tell you – but a pleasant one!). 

Anyway, Ivo Gormley, the director, was on hand to introduce the film, which interspersed interviews with Clay Shirky, Lee Bryant, Charles Leadbeater and Don Tapscott among others, with more detailed case studies of collaborative projects that were changing the way people lived (couchsurfing), gave and received loans (Zopa), took participatory ownership of something they felt a strong connection with (Ebbsfleet United FC), or gave and received advice from people in similar situations (mumsnet). It ended with clips from Ed Miliband MP and Shadow Chancellor of the UK George Osborne who both, surprisingly, seemed to support the idea that people should have more of a say in government other than voting the administration in once every four years. One of the funniest comments in an otherwise serious film was (and I’m paraphrasing), “the problem with government is that they think people are thick.” (!!!)
I was relieved that the examples weren’t things I’d heard a hundred times before (I’d heard of Ebbsfleet FC and couchsurfing but they aren’t over-exposed examples). It was also interesting to see the way Ivo Gormley wove all his case studies into the film, one by one in increasing order of impact on society, leading up to his main thesis that the time is soon going to come when power will be more and more a concept that the public can truly feel (as opposed to a vague idea they know of but have no real experience of), because they will have a greater stake in how their money is spent, and what kind of issues are in focus in the government. It’s very easy to forget in the sheer volume of conversation about ‘social media this’ and ‘social media that’, that large-scale change – change that structurally alters the way people think about concepts like society, government, power or participation – is coming ever closer. That time will be a new revolution, and it’s just about bubbling under the surface now. 

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