Beware Psychosis in Social Media

What’s the difference between passion and psychosis?

Passion enables you to seek out the things that help you get things done.

Psychosis drives you to see things that aren’t there, or to think in ways that are disconnected from reality.

A lot of people today are passionate about social media. And there’s good reason: these media are creating new ways of connecting and sharing and communicating.

There’s also a lot of misunderstanding, though, about the nature, promises and limits of these technologies which indeed are re-shaping the way we do things.

That’s expected: anytime new technologies emerge, there is bound to be a lot of talk around them – from intelligent discussion to nonsensical cacophony.

Optimists evangelize and hype, while pessimists ignore and dismiss. And they often sneer at each other – one is the stubborn status quo defender, the luddite; the other is the dangerous radical, the hipster.

I’m sure there was a monk in Germany in 1455 who scoffed at the idea of a mechanical scribe and proclaimed it a useless contraption. And I’m sure there was one who proclaimed that this mechanical scribe, this new media thing, would bring forth the Second Coming.

As it turned out, neither was on the mark.

And yet, that one single “new media thing” did alter the course of history. It was a big deal. It was revolutionary.

So much so, that to this day when we see the phrase The Book, an image of holiness rises out of Spiritus Mundi. The Book conjures Revelation and Second Coming.

But the revolution – or revelation – which the printing press enabled transpired over about 500 years.

Unlike the printing press, however, today’s technologies are bringing forth new technologies – and this bringing-forth is happening at vastly faster rates than the printing press. Whatever revolutions they are enabling won’t transpire over half a millenium – they are happening over years, over months, over weeks, right now.

The Web – the new “new thingy” – is the Mother of other new thingies.

The Web is a media-producing medium.

It is a big deal. Not Second Coming big deal, but a big deal.

So it’s easy to see why we now see so much hype, so much rush to fetishize social media, so much attention and theorizing and claiming.

In rapidly changing times, one of the dangers is that the loudest voices of emotion are the ones that are heard, drowning out the softer voices of reason. Or as one Irishman put it:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

But in times of upturning change, losing perspective of reality sends you off the pathway you must cross. I suspect many many companies and their agencies will chase after wild geese.

That’s what psychosis will do to you: you’ll chase after things that aren’t there.

So beware social media psychosis.

We’re social beings – that’s been the case for aeons. Social Media hasn’t of a sudden bequeathed some magical new feature of being human. Will it change how we are social. Probably. Could go good, could go bad – most likely a mix of both.

If you’re psychotic, it’s probably hard for you to know that you are – at least until you crash into a wall named Reality, which as Philip K. Dick defined:

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. Philip K. Dick

But if you’re passionate – and truly passionate about social media – then you should have no fear in putting your understanding, assumptions and claims through the filter of reality-checks.

Some of us have good guesses about what we can do with social media. Some of those guesses are born of passion for a better world.

But none of us knows exactly where these technologies will take us. That form of gnosis would be called psychosis.

A Bill of Rights for Social Media Sites?

Should we have a Bill of Rights for social media sites? It’s something we need to consider as these software become integral parts of our daily communications.

Some might say such a document isn’t needed, that we aught to take a buyer-be-ware approach.

But I would argue that the core issue of the privacy threats of new media isn’t really Privacy, but rather Dignity.

Having to go through fifty steps to set your privacy settings is undignified, even if your privacy is ensured.

So, if we value human dignity, we aught to consider standards of Dignity. A Bill of Rights, even if unenforceable, may at least remind us of the disturbing force of social technologies.

What’s your take?

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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Another Ultimate Social Media Dashboard

If you’re new to the strange world of social media, you’re probably not tired about discussion of ROI of intangibles like new media. For some of us who live in the echo chamber, it can be a rather tiring nuisance; yet it’s a matter which merits the attention of enterprises exploring their relationship with the Web.

For me, it’s a mostly humorous exercise. Not that I”m opposed to metrics – not by any means: once an accountant, always an accountant. From my perspective, however, quantity and quality are like trough an wave. You might say that in Business, I’m a Taoist.

Earlier today, my friend  @NickDawson shared a template he uses as a dashboard to demonstrate ROI. In accordance with  my reply to Nick, here’s one of mine (view in fullscreen):

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Google Reader as a Lifestream Search Engine

Image representing Google Reader as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

Google Reader is becoming more than just a reader. With it’s addition of social features like comments and Likes, it’s taking on more of a social-aggregation service. It’s not perfect, nor do its social elements make a great social networking service. Still, its search options continue to expand and third-party applications make sharing easier.

So far, Google Reader offers two features which allow you to follow the lifestreams of other users and burn feeds for searches in other services. Currently, the options are limited, but since they both include Twitter, you may consider using Reader to house your monitoring activities (not to mention you can backup your own Twitter statuses, since Twitter at this time isn’t very reliable for that).

Here’s a quick screencast demonstrating more of Google Reader’s search features (open in full-screen for better viewing):

By the way, I set up a Twitter account –  @PhilFeed – as a place to port my shared items and other findings around the web. Rather than blasting my followers on  @PhilBaumann, you can opt in to follow  @PhilFeed and you’ll get those items in your tweet stream (jut know that it’s not a very social account).

I’m curious to see if Google Reader will add more services, like FriendFeed or Posterous.

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Why Social RSS Could Be Huge

This icon, known as the "feed icon" ...
Image via Wikipedia

Ian Rosenwach has a brief post RSS’s potential in which he points out how building a few social features around RSS technology could propel it into a huge micro-content social network.

I don’t know if the  RSS brand will ever get much larger than it is in among the tech community, but I do think as a feature it will be one of the largest components of communications and social relations. Twitter is catchy. RSS isn’t.

Twitter is really simple syndication – way simpler than RSS. A tweet is both the feed’s title and subject. It’s two-way headline news.

If developers can derive inspiration from the social features of the two-way Web and fold the ingredients into RSS, RSS may at last achieve the public awareness it deserves – regardless of whatever its called. Maybe Twitter is what most people will call it.

Twitter enables us to dip into global brain pool (both bright and dim). If we could get deeper into the pool in a quick, consolidated and easy way with the rest of the dynamic Web then we could see a whole new kind of web evolve: a  vast active living intelligence system.


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10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Buy Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents

Chris Brogan has a new book called Trust Agents, co-authored with Julien Smith. I guess it’s about Trust and Agents. Agents of Trust. If you’re serious about being successful online and learning how to meaningfully connect with your stakeholders, you’re better off not paying attention to what some obscure authors who’ve achieved results have to say.

I haven’t read this book because my order hasn’t arrived. I’ve only followed @ChrisBrogan and read his blog and benefited from his content. So how one earth should I know whether to trust him when he says he’s got a book about his stuff published? And why should you?

It’s very simple. Do not buy his book. Here’s why:

  1. You know everything.
  2. Social media is a fad.
  3. Trust is over-hyped.
  4. You don’t need “actionable steps and case studies that show how social media can positively impact your business”.
  5. There’s no need to pay attention to authors with ten or more years of experience in social media – you can go it alone.
  6. Your brand is safely and entirely in your control.
  7. It’s really not the 21st Century
  8. The Web is a dangerous morass of whiners who you can ignore – you’re better off sitting on the sidelines.
  9. The big PR and Communications firms got your back.
  10. Your version of the Status Quo is here to stay.

I’ve never met Chris face-to-face but he’s been what I’d call a valuable online acquaintance – a good man who has helped me along my exploration of the web. I’ve never known him to be useless or unkind or out of touch with our ever-changing social landscape.

If you’ve been following my blog or putting up with my antics on Twitter and wonder why I still blog and explore the possibilities beset before us by social technologies and the communities they can engender, don’t buy Trust Agents. You might learn too much. Trust me.

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