Social Media in the Emerging Digitised Economy

Every new communication technology breakthrough, from radio to television, to computers, caused experts to become overly excited about the potential to revolutionise education, entertainment or business.  Visions of replacing expensive people with cheaper machines in these people-dominated economic segments, mostly, were dashed and the early excitement quickly dissipated. Cinema has not replaced theatre, computers have not replaced teachers and, whilst computers are everywhere in business, people still like doing business with people. Where technologies have brought people closer together, they have been embraced; and, where technologies have come between people, as in interactive voice response systems, they were much less successful.

It is often felt that we are at a dawn of a new age, and that this moment has significance unlike most others. Tom Stoppard wrote in Arcadia “A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs” and he goes on to highlight that relativity and quantum mechanics have yet to provide A Theory for Everything. Will the excitement for Internet technologies transforming human relationships and driving massive increases in productivity come to very little? Or is this the door that will open to a new way of living? What has to be done to avoid disappointment? How do we achieve trusted valuable online communications and collaborations? The great successes fit the established behaviour of people, and not the other way round. Steve Jobs knew this, and Apple products have become the benchmark of usability.

Now, contemplate the social media space.  Facebook, LinkedIN and other social networking sites are beginning to recognise the need for a trusted, simple and yet powerful way for communities to do more than just connect, communicate and collaborate and, so, provide an environment to conduct our lives more effectively. Everyone is beginning to work, learn and live using a digital canvas and those nations that provide the trust, integrity and safety in their digital environment will create more productive economies than those that do not.

What must be addressed in economic and public policy to meet this challenge? In order to build trust, and integrity, as well as provide a safe digital canvass for our society, we need a frictionless, trusted, safe, payment system; also, we need to feel in control of our personal information so we will need appropriate privacy and security.  In addition, as this digital canvass is all about creating, enhancing and utilising ideas and knowledge, we need to fix our busted intellectual property (IP) system.

Sometime between now and the 14 September I want to hear Stephen Conroy and Malcolm Turnbull give us their vision for Australia and how they will foster an environment that will provide us with better ways of working, learning and living.