I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film 'Us Now', a documentary film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet last week at the Barbican Arts Centre in London, and to interview director Ivo Gormley for 'Open Enterprise 2009'.
'Us Now' is a film that is likely to attract accusations of naivety: at its heart is the premise that trust can be enhanced by the human interconnectivity allowed by the net.
Director Ivo Gormley, participating in a panel discussion afterwards with Charlie Beckett (Polis) and Ann Longley (MediaEdge CIA), made it clear the film was intended to focus on forces for good and trust rather than on flaws in human nature and their possible negative effect on collaborative participants. Citing the remarkably benign experiences of the 985,000+ people who have visited and slept on other people's couches thanks to couchsurfing.com, Ivo pointed out that despite the lurid tabloid/bad news paranoid world we inhabit, people want to help not harm each other.
A rather distinctively English film despite the presence of US author and academic Clay Shirkey and Canadian Wikinomics author Don Tapscott, 'Us Now' is an ambitious undertaking, aiming to explore what happens to power in a world in which information is like air.
About the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet, the central proposition of the film is that new technologies and a closely related modern culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organization.
Ivo has done a masterful job of making a well paced, thought provoking 58 minute long film, and also encourages others to remix the core content with the 20 hours of footage available on the Us Now website (and presumably their own material) to draw other conclusions. There's a long tradition in Great Britain of co-operative movements - collective action defined as "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise." by the ICA (International Co-operative Alliance).
Us Now is intriguing not least because it captures the zeitgeist of the interconnected times we live in - the frontline being sharing and transparency versus the old order of guarded secrecy. On a societal level Gormley proposes that for the first time in history people have the tools to effectively amplify group effort to change politics, business and everyday lives. The British 'co-op' traditions are arguably a common thread in a film that discusses Ebbsfleet United, a fan owned UK football club I wrote about previously (they need more members), Zopa, the British 'Loans from people not banks' financial lender, fan underpinned music financing and the aforementioned couchsurfing.
For those not deeply immersed in the online world 'Us Now' is a fascinating primer in the aspirations of the net generation. An irony is that many of the people who would scorn the idealism of this film are highly likely to be bureaucrats in institutions with Soviet era style levels of trust and security - modern enterprises with old command and control pyramids.
Nevertheless, for a film that explores applying the founding principles of transparency, self-selection and open participation to politics - UK politicians George Osborne and Ed Milliband make an appearance - the old saying that the person who counts the votes decides everything did come up in a post film conversation. Charlie Beckett reminded us during the panel discussion that the number one crowd sourced 'peoples wish' on the new US polical administrations change.gov 'Open for Questions' area was legalizing cannabis, despite the urgent economic crisis. Who has the time and inclination to participate can skew results...
This is a big picture, visionary film that is exploring challenging premises and concepts that some will find hard to accept.
How mainstream all of this is to the gestalt of our social and political lives is the big question. For those living in the cutting edge fast lane online it seems apparent the revolution is now, but for the generation of Brits commuting home on the train reading newspapers after a day struggling with Microsoft Office, the evangelical email telling them to unite as one probably hasn't arrived yet.
I interviewed Ivo on video as part of the 'open enterprise 2009' research project I'm working on with Stowe Boyd and am cross posting it here - Ivo essentially proposes that blurring boundaries between business and consumers, and citizen and state, are dependent on high levels of transparency, openness and trust in this ten minute discussion.
'Us Now' is currently being screened in Canada and Europe and will be on Google Video next month. Negotiations are underway for showings on that ancient passive consumption medium, television.
Challenging the existing notion of hierarchy is a bruising battle when you're actually engaged with entrenched interests, as any Enterprise 2.0 proponent will tell you, but Us Now is well worth watching and digesting - as Ivo says, if you don't like what you see go ahead and make your own version of the film... if you have the time and the inclination...