Guest Commentary 

Internet social-networking sites get to heart of libertarianism

I attended the Blogworld Expo in Las Vegas. It is an annual convention of bloggers and "new media" geeks. Some might see this subject as rather narrow and boring, but the weekend provided insights into the future of business and society overall.

Bottom line: The era of top-down, command-and-control business structures are ending. People are less inclined to trust traditional advertising, and more inclined to trust each other. That's why every successful online business, from Amazon.com to Newegg.com, has scores of customer comments.

People are more interested in personal relationships with honesty and transparency. An impersonal corporate entity that sends a "cease and desist" order to a blogger can expect the order published on the blog with a new round of harsh criticism that will probably spread beyond the original author. Old tactics no longer work.

So, the vertical, impersonal corporation, with its one-size-fits-all contrived message, is being shrugged off in favor of a horizontal, personal network. This is enabled by the Internet, particularly with online social networking tools.

The hottest thing at the Expo was Twitter (twitter.com), a sort of high-speed micro-blogging service--imagine your favorite blogger totally tweaked out on methamphetamine.

Seriously, it's an extremely powerful social-networking tool that's been around for about a year, and is nowhere near its full potential. Twitter is the latest addition to the online networking toolbox.

I've been speaking in terms of business, but business is simply people interacting, and people are the society. As the Internet marketers say, markets are conversations, and participation is marketing.

People who use the Internet have a new-found power and authority. We do not care about advertisements; we want to know what our peers think. We do not want force-fed corporate information. We want to talk to companies, but only if they listen, and treat us like individuals, not a demographic group.

Tomorrow's corporate symbol may no longer be a skyscraper, but a subway train, where ideas, product development and marketing all happen on a flat, interconnected structure.

Culturally speaking, this is good news for Tucsonans. With our not-too-distant frontier heritage, we are "down" with the network thing. As frontier men and women, we scoff at hierarchies and have no use for authority by virtue of a certificate or title. We find pretensions irritating. We are naturally horizontal, personal, transparent and honest, and we value trust.

Heck! Look at our city! We may not have subways, but we are flat. We don't have skyscrapers, and we do not see the need for them, thank you very much.

Culturally, we are pre-positioned. So what does this mean politically? Well, it is certainly bad news for Democrats and leftists. Socialism is the ultimate vertical, top-down, command-and-control system.

Yes, I know all about how the Obama campaign made good use of social networking, but that, like so many campaign promises, will end with the election. An Obama administration and a Democratic Congress will not be governing from the subway. Congress will be on the top floor, and Obama will occupy the penthouse.

So what is the nature of this horizontal social networking, you ask? Let's see: voluntary personal relationships, based on trust and transparency; participation is not mandatory but invitational; no initiation of force, just people coming together on their own terms--why, that's the essence of libertarianism, baby!

The American left may as well retire, and the corporations that they have been fighting are about to die a natural death--all except for the biggest, scariest one, the federal government of the United States.

What of the future of the federal government? As president, Barack Obama may try to spread the thug politics of the Chicago machine from sea to shining sea, but ultimately, the people will shrug off that yoke just like they are shrugging off the corporate giants that live in the last century.

More by Jonathan Hoffman


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