Power play: An account of the rapidly evolving new world marvels at the ability of social media

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New Delhi | July 15, 2018 2:02 AM

Is social media neutral? The answer to the question may depend on who you ask and when you ask the question.

The #MeToo movement or #BlackLivesMatter would term social media as a force multiplier, mostly for good.

Is social media neutral? The answer to the question may depend on who you ask and when you ask the question. Donald Trump becoming the President of the US led to people around the world questioning the neutrality of the service. As companies such as Facebook were accused of rigging elections around the world, social media was termed evil. But activists from the #MeToo movement or #BlackLivesMatter would term social media as a force multiplier, mostly for good.

So there are optimists and pessimists about the impact social media can have on our lives. Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, having built their careers and social ventures from it, fall in the former category. Although they have their reservations about the service, the view they present is mostly cheery around what social media—and an ever more interconnected world—holds for the future. But what they seem more interested in are the new corridors of power that social media is creating. They marvel at its ability to transform the 21st century and create new phenomena that are continually changing the world we live in.

New Power: How It’s Changing The 21st Century—And Why You Need To Know is an account of this rapidly evolving new world, where the authors claim that anybody with the knowledge of social media can start the next movement or commit the next faux pas. Relying on the examples of Trump, Harvey Weinstein, ISIS, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, etc, the authors present a contrast between new power and the old. They extol the strategy of those who have successfully turned the tide using social media, while also presenting a contrast with those who still define their existence with “old power”.

In a case by case study, they show how this works in one scenario and fails in another, and how only those who are successful enough to switch between the new and the old or bridge the gap between the two have, or can, become successful in today’s world. In doing so, they lay down their ABCs of creating a movement and building a successful brand. And this is where the strength of the book lies.

Having run successful digital activism campaigns, the authors, in a concise and brief definition, give an overview of the world we live in and how companies and individuals can use this wealth of experience to create something big. Besides the myriad experiences that the authors offer, there is a guide to how anybody can speak the new power language, a plus for those trying to talk social media.

New Power, however, doesn’t go beyond the example paradigm to explain the workings of the new power economy. So instead of being a tale of the 21st century, it becomes more of a self-help book defining the dos and don’ts for companies, activists and brand managers. The examples do serve a purpose, but one has to have prior knowledge of power structures to gauge what the authors are trying to highlight with the models.

New Power, thus, fails to present a holistic view of today’s social and interconnected world. Timms and Heimans offer great insights on what to do and what not, but fail miserably in presenting a conclusion. The idea of a full-stack society is vague and half-baked. The authors throw around more words and new technologies at the reader to offer a foregone conclusion that we need a balanced world and that good will always win over evil. The fairytale ending to the book doesn’t even emphasise the problems that an overconnected world might create or how power structures might change with the Internet of things.

Though the examples serve as a great way to illustrate today’s problems, they often end up overarching the central theme of the book, which ultimately becomes a guide to social media dos and don’ts. The glossary is indeed helpful for somebody trying to get the hang of the new power, but the “why you need to know” question, so eloquently put forth in the title, is completely missing from the analysis. The authors have conveniently skipped over important phenomenon like irrational exuberance or why some movements or apps just take off while others don’t. Although the chapter on the new generation presents an interesting take on the needs and challenges of today’s generation, even that ends up becoming a guide on how to tackle such changes.

New Power can be an excellent read for anybody looking for a help guide, but for those seeking to understand the 21st century, it falls woefully short of its task.

The writer is a former journalist

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