2017: Fighting Popularity

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog, partly because I have much more going on with my job at Disruptor’s Handbook, on my various boards and on social channels, and partly because I have struggled to come to terms with what is going on in the wider world in terms of polity, investment and technologies. I have often felt my value is better channelled through mentoring, or through building a program of innovation that will address the major issues facing the world.

But there is another reason why I have avoided commentary and that is associated with the impact of what is said. It is no slight observation to note that a poorly researched, or popularly driven notion can sometimes take hold as fact – a point which has been so recently made abundantly clear on the world political stage.

While I am a huge advocate for positive action and change for good, I am conscious that such voices are being drowned out by algorithms that limit the opportunity of social and digital media to achieve the ends sought by those who stand up for what can be of benefit to society. The very technology on which they have relied to democratise public voices has instead kettled them in to a domain of digital “haves” against the digital “won’ts”. In the meantime, the digital “have-nots” have been relegated to the silent, even embarrassing half of our planet who will remain disconnected, disenfranchised and disallowed from participating in decision making about the future of the world.

It occurs to me that what is needed most of all right now, is the ascension of custodians of unpopular ideas.

Rather than pandering to the popular and sensational, what is needed is a rebirth of diversity, and positive action which galvanises fringe interests, so that no single, popular voice is permitted to rise above others. We should be bombarded with an array of perspectives so that we are forced to examine and judge, rather than simply being presented with judgements.

And we need to think about how we are going to use these unpopular ideas to reduce poverty, to increase access to communication and education, and to resist traditional notions of the apocalypse to come. We need to do what the late, great Hans Rosling has begged us to do: to become less ignorant about the future of the world.

I started this post by explaining my absence. And I noted that saying the wrong thing can have a significant and even catastrophic effect in an age of popular ideas. But I finish this post with hope. The reason why I return is because I believe that if we all make an effort to speak, to share and direct attention to unpopular ideas, then we have a chance to battle an uncanny silence that attends the current wave of obtuse populism.

Custodians of unpopular ideas, I call to you. Speak out! Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. Listen, engage, learn. Examine, assess. Don’t agree with every idea that comes your way.  Challenge your principles and those of people you care about as well as strangers to you. And most of all, express a perspective. Because the more you speak, the more the algorithms will shift away from the purely sensational, to the actually useful. It will require an investment only of your time. But for the sake of those who remain disconnected, it will be an investment worth making. Seek out and support the unpopular. Because it might be the one thing that binds us together in a future worth sharing.

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