I caught an interesting documentary the other day suggesting that one of the key factors of success for the American Revolution was our networking ability. One thing the British hadn’t counted on: America’s ability to move information through the colonies at astonishing speed.
America, it seems, has been deeply networked since day one. Even with our colonial wings of communal will radically clipped living under British law, Americans consistently, methodically, routinely organize in groups. Powerless groups, really, who have little authority over anything—not British law, not taxes. Yet convene they do. To discuss “the concerns of the day”. To communicate, to network.
Since the first Representative Assembly in 1619 Jamestown to the first Committee of Safety in 1774 Massachusetts, America grew in tight networks—local committees who elect regional representatives who attend colonial assemblies. Veritably powerless under British law, but here, there and everywhere. Hugely connected.
Also importantly, colonial literacy was very high—the north especially enjoying nearly full literacy. Even in the less literate South, oratory and word of mouth communication was alive and fast. News of the Boston Tea party was printed, dispatched and common knowledge in every one of the thirteen colonies within days.
Contrary to popular folklore, when the British finally did arrive, what Paul Revere didn’t do was ride about shouting incessantly, “The British are coming!” What he did do was act as a key influencer. He used an existing network to tell the right people the right thing at the right time and very importantly, asked them them to tell more people. And, thanks to the Sons of Liberty, the network was already in place before the message was pushed through—a key ingredient of successful viral marketing. By the early morning, 40 or more riders were scattered across Middlesex County carrying news of the British invasion. And the rest, as they say, is history.