Ihear a global murmur with a sensuous slur of s’s concerning social media, social space, social capital, social innovation, social business, social change, social design, social this, social that, social me, social you, and just plain ol’ social. What exactly are all these voices saying? Pretty much all the same thing.

Social design, no longer operating as a fringe discipline, is gradually paving the way for a new generation of conscientious individuals that are adamant about creating a future that they would want to inhabit. At its core, the voices are all singing the same tune: we need to improve livelihood – now. Michael Young’s ‘Open University’, to Nicholas Albery’s ‘The Institute for Social Inventions’, through to John Bielenberg’s ‘Project M’ there are countless examples of so called unreasonable people taking the lead in doing absolutely magnificent things.

By 2014, the European Union’s goal is to have a cohesive ‘Social Innovation Europe’. The remit of this initiative and any programme involving social design for that matter, is to bring together and invest in those that consensually want to improve society, and work collaboratively to design a sustainable future. Appealing to those who share values and a wider sense of purpose, this networked hub is attracting entrepreneurs, policymakers, innovators, designers, and many more. As these new ways of thinking spread and permeate the wider public consciousness, we move away form mere talk, to un-coerced collective action.

What distinguishes today from other ages in history (certainly a tired sentiment every generation abuses) are two things: 1) We are absolutely fucked if we don’t do something about the state of the world immediately (global debt, the environment, energy, overpopulation – take your pick) and; 2) modern technology makes it more feasible for anyone to trigger and enable systemic change. This new mindset may be best captured in the youth of today who just might look back in 2050 to a ‘golden age’ that increasingly was less about ‘me’ and more about ‘we.’

The party pooper in all of this is that the view from Mars might tell us a wholly different story: a world littered with dots representing the disenchanted through to the demoralized, from the disillusioned to the discarded. Regime changes, peaceful demonstrations, violent protests, flash mobs, economic uproars, invasive strip malls, social injustice, trade unions, – there is no shortage of causes for which to get behind. After a year of demonstrations in Greece, this powerful sentiment from blogger Alex Andreou, captures the spirit of Greek frustrations as they occupied Athen’s central plaza this summer:

We will not suffer any more so that we can make the rich, even richer. We do not authorize any of the politicians, who failed so spectacularly, to borrow any more money in our name. We do not trust you or the people that are lending it. We want a completely new set of accountable people at the helm, untainted by the fiascos of the past. You have run out of ideas.”

We may still be making sense of what happened in the London riots but we do not doubt the role that social media played in drumming up rioters.  The author and futurist, Douglas Rushkoff, saw this possibility long ago but was much more optimistic in how we would opt to harness the new tool:

[Social Media] offers us the ability to play an active, conscious role in the development of our networked human future: from distributed communications networks impervious to the censorship of corporate or government regimes to new modes of value creation and exchange, or new open source democratic participation to collective consciousness and expression.”

While the Greek demonstrations may be demanding a call for fresh thinking, the London riots incline to abuse and corrupt freedoms. Yet still, the escalating Libyan protests aim to bolster and protect basic freedoms.

Reaching a global consensus on how we will chiefly utilize our surplus time is not the point – it’s merely to acknowledge that like voting (for those that have that freedom), it’s a decision we each can make. Having swapped one-way television sets for hyper-connected iPads, the digital generation collectively has a trillion hours or so per year that could be used socially and constructively if desired. We are left right back with the commandment of social design: let us congregate to play an active role in increasing the resilience of our communities.

Whatever we decide – let’s get moving.

Comments are welcome