Digital Tribes: Rising Asymmetric Power

London, UK - 23rd February 2010, 23:23 GMT

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

Social networking is a disruptive force for 21st century digital tribalism, which is creating a new and powerful asymmetric shift. Digital networks have taken tribal behaviour to a whole new level of collective consciousness: dynamic self-assembling tribes that come into existence almost instantaneously. Human civilisation has gone from local to national and from national to trans-national tribal behaviour and congregation enabled by digital catalysts. Some critics may oppose the explosion of social networks such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter because they isolate people. Particularly the younger generation, immersed in digital social networks, may avoid face-to-face communication: a well recognised feature of traditional tribal behaviour. However, we must not forget that the predominant characteristic of tribes throughout time is the need to share and to communicate ideas, thoughts, observations and views. Digital networks achieve this objective by connecting like-minded members of such new tribes across continents!

Digital Tribe Analysis

Strengthening Digital Tribes

Modern human tribes are based on our need to use language and to communicate. With the growth of the Internet and with its capacity to communicate any and every idea or thought to anyone on the planet 24/7, we have created the ultimate platform for tribal behaviour. Human beings are social animals and need some form of community. Since the time our ancestors gathered together in caves for protection and food we have formed tribes and exhibit tribal behaviour. As civilisation has advanced our tribes have become more numerous and specific. They have developed into institutions, communities and sovereign nations. Now they are manifest as digital tribes.

Weakening Traditional Tribes

The rise of modern civilisation with its secularism and isolationism has done much to break down the traditional tribal bonds. Social observers underscore our weakening traditional tribal influences, noting that young people's lack of enthusiasm to join community groups today can be translated as a lack of social responsibility. However, the conclusion that young people don't want to participate in tribal behaviour does not hold true. They do! It’s just that the format and structure of 21st century trans-national tribal networks is somewhat different from local community participation. It can be described as social networking at one level and a vigorous digital market for the exchange of ideas at another level.

Asymmetric Power

The power of social networking, combined with mobile telephony and handheld access to the Internet, can literally change any political, business or social landscape rapidly, as witnessed by how President Obama's team ran his political campaign. In addition, social networking in some ways is virtually poised not just to dominate digital networks, but also to redefine and refine them. In essence, what social networking can do combined with self-assembling dynamic tribal structures is to mobilise a shared interest very quickly. It can become a viral mechanism for the transfer of new ideas via peer-to-peer communications. This is no different from old fashioned jungle drums, which have evolved in the 21st century, but the principle remains the same. In effect, every digital tribe becomes a self-constructed transient media channel with unbelievable asymmetric power! Very different from traditional fixed media channels with massive set up, advertising and maintenance costs as well as regulatory frameworks and strict codes of conduct that limit their appeal, reach and richness.

Fashion and Music

The tribal behaviour in the fashion and music industry is a critical model for how organisations may see their future in the brave new "digital tribes" world. Both fashion and music focus on capturing the hearts, minds and souls of their customers, who willingly become members of a particular tribe and spot other tribal members through mutual identification of themes, styles, movements, items and abstract constructs with high uniqueness and specificity. In that context, social networking is worth watching as a powerful mechanism to build 21st century tribes.


The phenomenon of digital tribes is accelerating and gaining critical mass. We overlook the ability of digital networks to galvanise strong tribal behaviour with asymmetric global power at our peril. Critics of the explosion of digital tribal networks point to their negative aspects:

. Lack of privacy;
. Proliferation of useless digital noise alongside useful information; and
. Breakdown of traditional tribalism.

Whilst noting the asymmetric threats posed by digital networks, including hijack and denial of service, it is important to remember the much larger asymmetric opportunity. Digital tribes can be beneficially harnessed as a vehicle for desired socio-economic, geo-political and environmental metamorphosis. As change agents, digital tribes may prove to be second to none.


We welcome your thoughts, observations and views. To reflect further on this subject and others, please respond within Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn's ATCA Open and related discussion platform of HQR. Should you wish to connect directly with real time Twitter feeds, please click as appropriate:

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Best wishes

ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

The Philanthropia, founded in 2005, brings together over 1,000 leading individual and private philanthropists, family offices, foundations, private banks, non-governmental organisations and specialist advisors to address complex global challenges such as countering climate chaos, reducing radical poverty and developing global leadership for the younger generation through the appliance of science and technology, leveraging acumen and finance, as well as encouraging collaboration with a strong commitment to ethics. Philanthropia emphasises multi-faith spiritual values: introspection, healthy living and ecology. Philanthropia Targets: Countering climate chaos and carbon neutrality; Eliminating radical poverty -- through micro-credit schemes, empowerment of women and more responsible capitalism; Leadership for the Younger Generation; and Corporate and social responsibility.

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