Can We Ever End Social Media Nonsense?

Tweety Bird

Disclosure: I’m fascinated with Technology in general and social software and communities in particular. I’m one of Twitter’s biggest fanboys (here’s proof). I blog and  tweet often about these media because I believe it’s important that we understand our relationship with Technology (and for me, Technology is more than just gadgets – for instance: I consider Law, Democracy, Religion and Capitalism technologies – but that’s another post).

I also believe that we need better or more original conversations about the Web and its deepening influences on our lives, our businesses, our sciences and our health care. Social Media pundits (or however they refer to themselves: gurus, evangelists, mavens) for too long have held the dominant voice in these discussions.

One phenomenon which our Web has engendered is the ability for virtually anyone to express their opinions and experiences and perspectives in accordance with their mastery of media. And therein lies a pesky issue: one’s accumulation of social attention for a particular field doesn’t always correlate with their expertise.

Over the last decade, many brilliant contributors have offered important and refreshing perspectives on the promises of the web. But some of these ideas have yet to be vetted and validated by closer scrutiny and scientific inquiry. The truth is not always intuitive. It’s easy, therefore, for appealing ideas to have fundamental flaws.

Here are three beliefs which many social media enthusiasts propound virtually daily. I’m not going to say that these beliefs are wrong – or right. But I think we need to scrutinize them much more deeply and publicly before they become permanently embedded in our collective conscious.

  1. Privacy Is Dead. Is it? In some regards, my opinion is that it is. Furthermore, I think that may not be such a bad thing: opening ourselves up can provide community benefits. Health care data has the potential to improve our medical knowledge – and yet we have many critical concerns about how we share that kind of data. Privacy is more than data. We shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing one aspect of privacy with other features which make us human. Don’t be too surprised if privacy resurrects itself in 2010.
  2. Social Media Is Democratizing. Are you sure? Our species is replete with examples of disappointed hopes that novel technologies release us from cunning manipulation and the concentration of dangerous powers. Don’t get me wrong: elements of our evolving interactive technologies are doing wonderful things for democratic efforts. The danger in thinking that these media are absolutely democratizing is that we will acquire a mentality which overlooks those tiny dislocations of freedom which lead to tyranny – and it may be us who abet terror. For it is possible that future tyrannies will not be some centrally-governed dictatorship: rather, it may be ourselves who generate communities of sibling rivalry.
  3. Traditional Marketing Is Dead. No, it isn’t dead. Traditional marketing was just incomplete. New media is helping to complete the circle or marketing life cycles. There’s no doubt that marketing will have to undergo radical changes in beliefs and hypotheses and models and practices. Why? Because realtime conversations will forever take place and businesses owe it to themselves to invest in the training and efforts to be remarkable with their ears and eyes and voices. What’s dead in traditional marketing is talk-to-the-hand and clockwork-orange marketing. Most traditional marketing last century was atrociously mediocre and annoying – utterly lacking in creativity and kindness and care. All that the new media are doing is making it clear that the cost of those approaches are skyrocketing.

We need smarter voices to contribute to our understanding of the Web. The marketers have had the loudest voices – some of them have been quite enlightening. But marketing is a tiny component of how we can use the Web. (Plus: Marketing isn’t a science. Physics is a science. We need more scientists.)

We need more physicians and nurses and physicists and journalists to profess their views. But in order for them to do any of that, they will have to master the skills demanded of new media. Just because many of these voices have been a bit missing in online discussions doesn’t mean that the louder voices of amateurish meme-makers are the right ones.

There’s a lot of nonsense that takes place on tech blogs and social media blogs. Twitter has become a virtual cesspool of retweeted rubbish. Can we end all this social media nonsense? Probably not. But we can counter-balance it with the wisdom of those who have deeper and broader real-life experiences which the social medi(ocrity) lack.

I hope that in 2010 we hear a lot more skeptics (note: skepticism is not the same as cynicism).

I hope that in 2010 journalism makes a come-back. And I hope it doesn’t take a painful failure of public mutual misleading on Twitter to demonstrate the need for rigorous journalism.Traditional journalist may have missed the opportunity of a lifetime to learn the powers of the Web. But the newer generation will have to do the hard work of dovetailing the structures of journalistic discipline and integrity with the needs of a real-time Web.

I hope that in 2010 more  doctors and  nurses start blogging and tweeting.

For example: there’s a  chat on Twitter which aims to discuss how healthcare communications can improve patient relations via social media: but that conversation needs to involve a lot more clinical practitioners and patients who more fully understand the nuances of health care in all its forms. It’s a start in the right direction, but it won’t evolve unless more diverse and experienced perspectives enter the conversations.

We need to be clear in our understanding of Technology and the Web. We need to dampen the retweeting of nonsense and pay more attention to what matters most. I’ll close this post with a message from  William Stafford. It’s the most important sequence of words every written about social media (too bad William can’t blog and tweet):

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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