In 1996, I was among the early adopters of the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and I chatted for hours with people connected around the globe.
At the time, there were not much more than 30 million users around the globe and interfaces were limited to monochrome screens where dialogs were displayed line by line. Still, it was already an extraordinary experience because these social platforms let you foresee what would happen if people began to meet and create links more freely.
However, no one would have imagined that one day it would be hundreds of millions of people who would connected inside the same immersive tool, until every life becomes a window on all other lives.
1.2 billion users  on Facebook; 500 million tweets sent every day; 3 hours spent each day on different social networks: there is always a new infographic to come remind us how much social networks became ubiquitous in our lives.
When I measure our progress, a part of me is amazed. The advent of social networks allowed us to experiment a common frame where we are together and in which all the thoughts, intentions, moments of joy and sadness are connected, interact, resonate and grow together.
However, if social networks have transformed our lives in many ways, I became convinced that, like the caterpillar, they are not the final stage of the evolution of Internet. I believe they are only a step and they will eventually grow into something completely different, and open a new form of collective achievement.
An endless commentary of the World
«There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future.”
The main limit I see in social networks as they became is that they hamper collective action.
This statement may seem paradoxical, since social networks rather give the impression of a huge collective potential. However, like the movements that neutralizes each other in Brownian motion, that power remains a simple potential.
Of course, people go on social networks in order to meet old acquaintance or to make new ones. But the underlying promise held by social networks was to change the world. To make a difference in a troubled time when it is more important than ever to coordinate, to provide reliable information, to act together in order to improve society.
This vision has been completely lost since then. Instead of sharpening our collective intelligence and promote purposeful action, social networks tend to keep us in a very special form of schizophrenia.
Of course, they facilitate communication. But they also act as a safety valve to evacuate the daily stress generated by an inhuman economical system that crushes us. In doing so, they become an useful instrument of the same system, providing us with an emotional relief that help us endure the World one more day.
Against this argument, you may mention the role of Facebook during Arab revolutions. However, the very way this episode was heavily emphasized by everybody (including the Facebook communication service) only shows that we are in a desperate need to find examples of a successful collective action to compensate for all the time and energy wasted on social networks without accomplishing anything.
The truth is that the features of social networks are not suited to “make things happen”. They are designed to comment the world, not to change it.
Of course, there are groups who use Facebook or Twitter to organize collective actions, but social networks are not a suitable environment to make thing happen in real life. On the contrary, they have a sink effect on action. Unfortunately, the only kind of organization that uses them quite effectively are now the extremists and the radical activists: there are almost no examples of big scale project that a social network has initiated and organized from beginning to end.
Effective work groups do not need to discuss too much. The language naturally creates a bubble of illusion that makes us lose sight of what is happening in reality: there is nothing easier than to argue endlessly about what to do but never do it.
This contradiction has become so huge that a group of ten disciplined people can more effectively change the course of history than two billion people who spend their time tweeting and posting selfies on their wall Facebook.
From social network to collective construction
« The future remains uncertain and so it should, for it is the canvas upon which we paint our desires. Thus always the human condition faces a beautifully empty canvas. We possess only this moment in which to dedicate ourselves continuously to the sacred presence which we share and create.».
Frank Herbert, Children of Dune
Social networks have brought to the world some fundamental positive changes. First, they brought us closer and made us feel that, despite geographical, national, ethnical, social and religious differences, we were all connected, all part of something bigger than us.
This point is crucial, because I do not see how we can build a better future if we do not develop a deep consciousness of how we are all connected together.
Second, the social networks managed to work in a truly democratic way, giving the same importance and the same chance to express him/herself to every user.
All in all, it was a bit like gathering all Internet users on a place and say, “Hey, remember, in spite of our difference, we are a big family!”.
However, social networks works way too much like a hall of mirrors that endlessly reflects the World, but fail to change it.
And while we spend our energy discussing, inequalities continue to grow around the world. And if things continue to get worse, humanity will soon be confronted with issues of such magnitude that no more government can not solve them alone.
Therefore, we will not ever have the luxury to use social networks as a space to relax and forget about the World. It is now high time to think about how to use the Internet to adress the challenges we are faced as citizen of the World. If we do not do it now, we might pay a high price for the consequences of our collective inaction.