Internet of things? Ask a policeman!

December 1, 2012

I enjoyed the Public Policy Exchange seminar I went to on Thursday.

It had an over ambitious title: “Revolutionising Public Sector Communications: Accelerating the Digitalisation of Public Services through Social Media.”

Jamie Bartlett from Demos was a very good chair (i.e. stopped me ranting too much).

The best speaker of the day was Andy Trotter, Chief Constable of the British Transport Police. His thoughts were sensible, pragmatic, imaginative and tolerant. You can find him on Twitter as Chief Constable BTP.

Chatham House rules prevent me saying too much more.

However one point we discussed was worth writing down.

Why is it that an incident in the street that would be forgotten about in a couple of minutes can create a moral panic on social media?

People like objects. They develop emotional attachments to them: a book, a record, a guitar, a favourite mug, an iPhone.

Digital media turns ephemeral incidents into what seem like real objects. A You Tube video on my phone somehow seems alive (it isn’t) and more real than reality. It’s also feels permanent, fixed, can be replayed again and again. This fixity perhaps heightens our sense that “something must be done”, indeed that we can do something. It triggers an over cooked emotional reaction which is often out of proportion to the incident itself. Maybe this is partly about the power of the visual, wrenched out of context and heighted in digital media. In reality you can see, hear, feel and even smell an incident. Often you feel and hear it without seeing it. Your body reacts differently, perhaps feels less under threat.

As devices become more apparently alive and magical as they become more and more hooked up to the internet, there’s a need to manage or control (self control) the tendency to over react.

Otherwise every chance comment that you would ignore in the street will become the basis for legal action in the digital world.

If you wouldn’t do anything if it happened on the street, why do something just because it happened on Twitter?

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