Time Magazine has tapped "You" as its Person of the Year. With so much bad news and so many bad actors on the world's stage this year, it appears that by default Time went with something soft and fuzzy. Indeed, the rise of UGC (User Generated Content, an awful phrase) and the concept of Web 2.0 (harnessing collective intelligence) are sparks of what will be looked upon in hindsight as a revolution, similar to the breakdown of cultural and some institutional barriers in the 1960's.
But, surely Time could have made more of a statement about what terrible shape the world is and who is doing something about it in it's choice. How about the people behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? At minimum, the selection will create fodder to fill up the blogosphere with posts and celebrate YOU and the Internet, if that matters to you.
Lev Grossman writes in the intro:
Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?
The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you. Sure, it's a mistake to romanticize all this any more than is strictly necessary. Web 2.0 harnesses the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom. Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.
But that's what makes all this interesting. Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail. There's no road map for how an organism that's not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion. But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you're not just a little bit curious.
Russell Shaw also posts on this topic and has a poll.