Sunday, May 10, 2009

The world is mostly light, with specks of dark

My wife and I were out cycling today. And somewhere between town and home her handbag went missing.

Her handbag contained her purse, all those cards, her mobile, cherished photographs - all those things of value and sentiment contained in any woman's handbag.

We realised it was missing the moment we got home. And straightaway we retraced our journey hoping against hope that we'd spot the missing bag where it had tumbled to a rest.

No such luck.

On returning home once more there was only one thing for it. Forlornly my wife was calling the police, to report her bag missing and initiate the process of card cancellation, mobile phone stopping and all the rest, when... a knock on the door.

A wonderful couple on bicycles. With my wife's handbag.

Had we checked our home phone's messages we'd have noticed they'd been trying to call us to tell us they'd found the bag, even as we were out scouring grass verges in the hope of spotting it.

They would take no reward. We didn't even get their names. All I could do was leave them my card and tell them that if they ever needed a favour they should call me. I hope they will.

The world is a place of light. We live in a society of people who do good to each other as a default state. Humans help each other. Always have, always will. It is what has made us so successful as a species.

I tell this story because it reminds me of a simple lesson: The world is mostly light with specks of dark, not vice versa.

Not the world you see through the lens of mass media is it?

But it is the world you see through the lens of the social web - where people come together to solve shared problems to mutual benefit.

Often people drop everything to help each other in the 'web of flow' that Stowe Boyd describes. And just as often those who experience life through the filter of mass media choose to belittle that notion as some kind of free lunch.

But it is more than that. It is our somewhat self-serving natural state. We help strangers because we are driven by ideas enshrined in Buddhist karma or the Christian creed - do unto others...

We do good because we want to live in a world that would do good to us. Doing good has an upside for all.

Don't believe me? Ask yourself what you would do if you found a handbag in the street. Pocket your haul? Or hand it in/trace the owner? For 99% of us the answer is that we would do the right thing. You do it out of goodness. You do it because you'd like to think the same would happen for you.

News just in: It does.

The mass media scare story would tell you NOT to have your address in your handbag (look at the excitability over what private data your daughter may be sharing in her facebook profile). The from-the-centre scare story would tell you not to leave your phone unlocked because a thief could access your contacts book. And yet without either of these the very kind person who found my wife's handbag could not have traced us to return it.

And the reality is that 99% (ok, I'm guessing) of people who would find your stuff would go out of their way to get it back to you.

Does the real risk of the bad guy really demand our defensive walls are built so high?

Why do you think police forces are so small relative to the size of total population?

Most people are good and do good.

The relentless reporting of the bad (that we have voted for with our purchasing of mass media, and which performs the role of warning us against 'evil') colours our view of the world - makes us think it's darker than it really is.

But living in social media reveals the light, the generosity, the goodness of the human state. The web - where it makes sense to any business or organisation to make like a human - is also the place that reveals us as human almost as much as our real experiences of real life.

It is one of the reasons I am starting to ponder if the web is media at all.

At its simplest it always has been just a place where people get together to do what people do.

And that, for the vast, vast majority, is co-operate.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?