It is no secret that the Internet has changed how human society functions. There are specific effects that can be observed no matter where one looks. However, it is the effect on leadership that is most notable. The way the Internet and its related technologies have developed, leadership is most definitely affected. Who is the leader of the Internet? No one! Is that same conclusion applicable to governments, religions, and other institutions? Let us see.
Power has been concentrated in the hands of the few for as long as one can remember. Land ownership during the feudal system, or restricting the translation of the Bible and keeping it limited to the churches during the Dark ages; power remained concentrated. When the power was spread out into the hands of all within society, it did not empower everyone. However, it did dilute the power of those considered leaders.
In this day, information has proven to be the equivalent of power. Now, it would be a problem if, there were a knowledge that others could not understand even if they tried. This still does happen to be the case for many things. Complex mathematical calculations or deep philosophical musings are not easily understood. Does this mean, other people with supposedly less ability should not have the opportunity to access these? Maybe someone will take up the challenge. Maybe someone will put forth the effort and produce new insight. Whatever may be the case, power will not remain concentrated in the hands of the few who can abuse it on a whim.
If all the people in a society have access to the same information, two things can happen:
- All people will still not have the same power.
- The abuse of power will become much more difficult.
It is worth seeing how these two factors are visible today.
All people do not have the same power
One of the fears regarding transparency – the openness of leadership towards society for the purpose of accountability – is, that people will become as powerful as the leader. Can this happen? No. The simple reason is that people differ in abilities. Even if all are given the same opportunities for food, housing, clothing, and information some individuals will be superior. Humans are not born equal. Some are born with physical defects, and some are gifted in special ways. The desire to create a society of equals cannot be fulfilled.
We have ways of measuring and establishing power. We often do so on the basis of wealth, education, or even physical appearance. Granted, these criteria set by society are not always just. These cannot account for the complexities found in individual human beings. Very often, these are not conducive to a healthy sense of self-worth. A truly equal society will not address individual human needs, for humans are not all equal. Even then, each individual should justifiably receive an equal opportunity to realize his potential. Sharing information over the Internet is one novel means to accomplish that goal.
There has to be another acknowledgment as well. All people are not the same in their ability to hold knowledge and to use it wisely. Two surgeons educated from the same books, having the same set of tools, and even the same support staff still differ. One surgeon has a healing touch. His care, skill, and attention come through in an effort to preserve the health and life of a patient. It is his inner qualities that set him apart. He is gifted. The other surgeon cannot equal a gifted person. It is the same with knowledge or power. Knowledge, or power through it, is not fitting for all, even though it is available to all.
The abuse of power will become much more difficult
If the abuse of power stems from the withholding of information, the ability to share on the Internet is its greatest social antidote. This is an assumption. It is based on the premise that humans have an inner goodness. Had the assumption been that humans are basically evil, the Internet with its information-sharing facilities would not have existed as it does today. There is some truth in either assumption, and either assumption is also incorrect.
There is no simple categorization of humans as good or bad. For that matter, even all information itself cannot be so simply categorized as such. Just imagine walking into a library and finding only two sections – good books, and bad books! How a human being will respond to certain information, and what information should or should not be shared into society are not answered by the open nature of the Internet. The imperfection of the idea of democracy becomes even more evident in how the Internet functions. The reach, size, and the speed of the Internet make it a formidable creation of humans. The absence of democracy, however, has led to a lack of accountability. The abuse of power is unchecked, then.
Human beings have a strange relationship with power. As long as a person does not have power, he craves it. Then, when he gets power, it is only a matter of time before he abuses it. Either there is something wrong with certain kinds of power – including the power that comes from knowledge – or there is something wrong with human beings. It seems, there is some truth in either conclusion. It is utterly unpredictable what one person, or a group of persons, might do once they attain power. In a desperate situation, or in a moment of carelessness, power can be abused. What can help us as individuals and as a society?
The need for fear
It would seem appropriate to keep a measure of fear, because, fear exercises restraint. There are many things that can go wrong with mishandled power. Some of these effects are irreversible. Furthermore, we don’t fully understand the effects of the power, if employed. The most notable example that would come to mind is nuclear energy. When used as a weapon, it is not just the immediate devastation but also the persistent, longstanding threat to the environment from radiation.
The Internet has even become the place where information on where to procure nuclear material and how to build a nuclear weapon is available. Is this with the assumption, that such information will not be abused? Sometimes, one has to wonder how naive and immature humanity can be. Human evil is so terribly underestimated. There have been human actions, regardless of who does them, that could not be solved or prevented through excellence of reason. The only solution, then, seems to become equally powerful. Whether in nuclear energy or information of great significance on the Internet, this has been the underlying logic. Those who adhere to such logic would be called realists.
Either way, there is a real need for fear. There is much cause to be fearful. We should be in awe of our own powers, especially in view of the irreversibility of certain actions. We should be fearful that such effects of abuse of power can befall anyone. No one is absolutely safe.
The superiority of cooperation over competition
In the interest of survival and co-existence, we need to personally revise our understanding of human nature, and the relationship between an individual and society. The existence of the Internet requires this of us! Every person in a leadership position who has understood the superiority of cooperation over competition is revolutionary in this regard. It is truly sad to see situations where social polarization reaches a level of no possible compromise. A fresh example is the social intolerance of Nazi ideology in the US, and how even a leading news source like NYT puts itself in a nearly indefensible position in the face of public backlash.
While society continues to oscillate between waves of opinions and changes, the Internet is appearing to be a perfect medium. It is both, the cause of and the solution to problems resulting from sharing information. The Internet is an ongoing suspense.
There really does not seem to be a working formula that can satisfy the whole of society. The complexity of society down to the level of individuals seems unmanageable. It is understandable why many come to the conclusion of abandoning social causes in favor of personal goals. Social causes seem to bring far more frustration and too little reward. Nowhere is it more evident than on the Internet.
Putting it all in perspective, willful blindness and deafness seem required of leaders in any field. Else, there would be exhaustion of every leader! The scale of operations in governments, corporations, and religions makes it impossible for any human to successfully supervise and meaningfully interact with all his followers. In these situations, the Obama foundation seems to have presented a noteworthy mission statement. Leadership can succeed best at a more local level! It remains to be seen if human society will successfully coordinate its large-scale efforts to cooperate together. As long as the Internet remains, this is a realistic possibility.