I knew the experiment was working when i felt uncomfortable: sat on the plane, with the first copy in my hand, i worried what other people would think, how they would respond to the writing, how they would feel about the ideas captured between the covers. The back of the Zine was visible for all to see, and it said everything you needed to know: ‘Provocative Writing For A More Equal World’.
The Zine in question is called =Q@L, pronounced ‘Equal’, and the idea behind it is five weeks old today.
I want to share the story of an experiment in the Social Age: it’s a story about the power of writing, the emergence and potential of a community, the unifying nature of stories and the need for disruption, for subversion of those things which are just plain wrong. It relates to the ways that the Social Age works, and the ways that it bypasses or subverts formal systems.
I’m #WorkingOutLoud to share this story, because i think it illustrates the power of community and the potential for change in the Social Age, if we can only understand how the mechanisms of stories work to drive change.
Ideas spread through magnetism: strong stories spread far. Not through formal channels, but social ones. If the ideas are strong, they are interpreted, contextualised, shared and grown.
In the Social Age, we inhabit many spaces, some formal, some social, some visible and some hidden. And we can choose to do different things, using different voices, in those different spaces.
This is an experiment for me, where i’ve been able to find a different voice, and join with the voices of others to try to make a difference.
The idea for =Q@L is that every movement needs a home, and there is a proud tradition of using magazines and journals to serve that purpose. In this case, i wanted a home for writing around equality, fairness, social justice and change, a place to provoke discussion and debate, but be unafraid to be challenging. A tone of voice somewhat different from the one i would normally use here in the blog, which is governed by it’s own rules.
Essentially, the blog is my ‘professional’ space: the ideas i write about are ‘safe’ in that sense: i never feel uncomfortable if people read over my shoulder, because it’s all there to share, and it’s written to be positive.
But some things need to be more provocative: if we want to drive change, sometimes we need to create ripples. And =Q@L is intended to be a stone in the water to do just that.
In the Social Age, core skills are to iterate and prototype, rather than think too long, so that’s what i’ve done with this.
How do you go about writing, producing and distributing a subversive magazine to drive change? Start with foundations: a storytelling space and a home for the community.
I was able to use free, democratised tools to set up the website and social accounts, as well as a collaborative working space using WordPress, LinkedIn, Google Docs and Twitter. This democratisation of technology is a key feature of the Social Age: where once infrastructure was expensive, complex and owned by the organisation, today it’s devolved, freely available and outside the control of any single power.
Once the space existed, i could find fellow travellers: people united around shared ideas, ways that the world could be better. Social channels suit this well: hashtags are effectively aggregators, they unite people around ideas and let us connect outside our immediate network. So the first community members landed, started conversations, and in turn recruited through a second generation. Connections of connections.
Some community members i knew, others were new to me, but the speed with which we were able to create a fledgling community out of nothing is a core feature of the Social Age: it’s a key skill of Social Leaders to understand their communities. Which ones do they belong to, what purpose do they serve, what role do they take? Sometimes we need to leave communities, sometimes we have to nurture and support them, sometimes we have to push them hard, or help others succeed, and sometimes we have to start one from scratch, which is what i’ve tried to do here.
As our embryonic community found it’s voice, people started to share writing: ideas for articles, disparate and fragmented, as you’d expect, and it rapidly became clear that there was a missing skill. I realise i’ve never edited other people works, at least beyond the type of editing that spots spelling mistakes and grammar. I’m not a developmental editor.
Fortunately, two people within this young community are superb developmental editors: this is why community makes us stronger. I may lack the skills, but if i engage the right community and invest in it to help others succeed, when the time comes, others will invest in me. It’s reciprocal, but not transactional. In this instance, it was fortunate that we found unity around ideas and had the strength within our community to execute it, at least well enough for a first issue (remember: prototype and iterate. Dont’ worry about getting it right first time).
With a pile of articles to hand, illustrations started to arrive and a designer to stitch it all together.
But aside from the technical aspects of production, we have to consider choreography: how will the story be spread.
In the Social Age, where everything is so convenient, often accessible on demand through out technology, i decided on a more low key approach.
There will only be a hundred copies of the Zine, hand printed and distributed free around the world. I say ‘free’, but there is a catch: people have to explain how they will share the story.
Leave it on a train, post it to a friend, put it on the shelf in a library, Tweet it, photocopy it, share it. The physical copies will be limited to 100, but if we get it right, the story will spread beyond that.
Will it work?
I don’t mind, as long as we learn from it: that’s the point of running an experiment. You try, you test, you learn. It’s provocative writing to drive change, and it’s an experiment in the Social Age, drawing upon principles of community, storytelling, amplification, sharing and so on.
You can achieve a lot in five weeks, if you have the right community around you, and a desire to change something.
You can subscribe to =Q@L Zine here.