Social media and the 21st Century Enlightenment

Some time ago I wrote and presented a paper advocating the need for a Public Service Renaissance. A philosophical kindred spirit recently drew my attention to the work of Matthew Taylor and the RSA. In particular RSA Animate – 21st century enlightenment.

Some historical context. The Renaissance saw advances in literature, architecture, humanism, and a world economy, while the Enlightenment was characterised by advances in the scientific method, industrialization, rationality, astronomy, and calculus. So they are quite different, but complementary periods of history.

What resonates very well so far as my views on the public service are concerned are Matthews comments about bureaucracy being more concerned with the rationality of rules than the rationality of outcomes. This is still an irksome characteristic of the Australian Public Service – and for that matter most public sector jurisdictions.

Matthews comments on global empathy and connectedness are also relevant to the impact of social media. Which raises an interesting question. If, however intuitively, the wider global community ‘gets’ social media why don’t so many of our institutions. The answer probably lays in the focus on the rationality of rules. To bad if the outcome is irrational – the rules have been followed.

Mind you, I don’t think it’s a question of much of the public service bureaucracy not ‘getting social media’. They do all to well I suspect. Which is why it tries to force social media into a rational rule governed regime. And I’d go further. Social embedded empathic capacity is not something the bureaucratic process and the mindset that goes with it find at all comfortable. Yet this is precisely what social media enables – not a reality or prospect that sits comfortably with the status quo.

That’s enough from me. Take some time to view RSA Animate – 21st century enlightenment.

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