Sunday, August 14, 2011

The good and ill of social media: a parable

In the wake of the London riots, UK Prime Minster David Cameron has proposed to ban social media to prevent the organisation of social unrest via platforms such as Blackberry, Twitter and Facebook.

Many have pointed out the hypocrisy when comparing Cameron's approach to that of Arab dictators during their own uprisings.

This reminded me of a parable (originally from the middle-east, I think) that I was told when I was a child that those that would ban social media should pay heed to, before considering taking such a drastic step.

(I'm doing this from memory, so to those who know this story, sorry if the rendition is not the best)

The Best and the Worst Meal in the World.

There once was a young man who was known for his  many skills and his wisdom despite his tender years and because he was so wise the King had bestowed upon him great rank and privilege.

This caused a great deal of jealousy in the court and many of the courtiers openly questioned the King's judgement in promoting this young man. The King's advisors told the King that he ought to set the young man a task to prove his wisdom the quell the rumours and innuendo in the court.

The King pondered what task would properly test his young protege's wisdom and prove to his courtiers that his judgement was sound in his promotion of his young charge.

After much deliberation the King decided upon a task that would prove his protege's skill and wisdom. He summoned his young protege and told him that to prove his wisdom and skill, he wanted him to cook the best meal in the world for the King and his courtiers.

The young man went away and pondered what would prove both his wisdom and skill and decided upon a dish of ox tongue. He delicately seasoned the tongue and cooked it to perfection and presented the dish to the King and his courtiers. All agreed that indeed it was a delicious dish and asked the young man why he considered it the best dish in the world.

The young man answered: "Well Sirs, the tongue can create things of great beauty: poetry, stories, it can be use to inspire men and to bring them to tears, its by the work of our tongue that Man creates his dominion over the beasts."

The courtiers decided that this was indeed a wise answer but were still not convinced and so they set him a further task: to make the worst meal in the world.

The young man went away and pondered what would prove both his wisdom and skill and decided, once again, upon a dish of ox tongue. He delicately seasoned the tongue and cooked it to perfection and presented the dish to the King and his courtiers.

The King was surprised: "you have served us the same dish! How can this be both the best and the worst dish in the world?"

The young man answered: "Well, just as the tongue can produce things of great beauty, it can also create things of great evil. It can destroy men's reputations, inspire men to great evil, be used to invoke jealousy and rage, be used to slander and undermine and that its why it is also the worst dish in the world."

The King and his courtiers were surprised by the young man's wisdom and no-one in the court questioned the young man's elevation to such high station again.

***

In the same way Social Media can be used for great good or ill, so before cutting out his citizen's digital tongues to prevent further ill, Cameron and his ilk should also realise the great good that they will also be extinguishing.