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    « Are social media, social? (Part Four) | Main | Are social media, social? (Part Two) »

    Are social media, social? (Part Three)

    Some non-profits are using Social Media for real results. They are raising the profiles of their charities as well as increasing the brand awareness of their work. They are connecting with a variety of communities inside and outside of their home environments. In the process, Twitter is enabling a variety of exchanges many of which would not happen without the easy access that Twitter provides. These are examples of growth and change through the movement of ideas and projects. Twitter posts remind me short telegrams and as it turns out that may well be the reason the 140 character limit works so well. Social networks facilitate new forms of interaction and often unanticipated contacts. It is in the nature of networks to create nodes, to generate relationships, and to encourage intercommunication. That is after all, one of the key definitions of networks.

    Alexandra Samuel suggests: “But here’s what’s different: you, as an audience member, can decide how social you want your social media to be. If you’re reading a newspaper or watching TV, you can talk back — shake your fist in the air! send a letter the editor! — or you can talk about (inviting friends to watch the game with you, chatting about the latest story over your morning coffee). But the opportunities for conversation and engagement don’t vary much from story to story, or content provider to content provider. On the social web, there are still lots of people who are using Twitter to have conversations, who are asking for your comments on that YouTube video, who are enabling — and participating in — wide-ranging conversations via blog and Facebook. You can engage with the people, organization and brands who want to hear from you…or you can go back to being a passive broadcastee.”

    These are crucial points, a synopsis of sorts of the foundational assumptions in the Twitterverse and the Blogosphere. At their root is an inference or even assertion about traditional media that needs to be thought about. Traditional media are always portrayed as producing passive experiences or at least not as intensely interactive as social media.

    Let’s reel back a bit. Take an iconic event like the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That was a broadcast event that everyone alive at the time experienced in a deeply personal fashion. The tears, the pain, people walking the streets of Washington and elsewhere in a daze, all of this part and parcel of a series of complex reactions as much social as private. Or 9/11, which was watched in real time within a broadcast context. People were on the phone with each other all over the world. Families watched and cried. I could go on and on. It is not the medium which induces passivity, but what we do with the experiences.

    So, Twitter and most social media are simply *extensions* of existing forms of communication. This is not in anyway to downplay their importance. It is simply to suggest that each generation seems to take ownership of their media as if history and continuity are not part of the process. Or, to put it another way, telegrams, the telegraph was as important to 19th century society as the telephone was to the middle of the 20th century.

    In part one of this essay, I linked Twitter and gossip. Gossip was fundamental to the 17th century and could lead to the building or destruction of careers. Gossip was a crucial aspect of the Dreyfus affair. Gossip has brought down movie stars and politicians. The reality is that all media are interactive and the notion of the passive viewer was an invention of marketers to simplify the complexity of communications between images and people, between people and what they watch and between advertisers and their market.

    For some reason, the marketing model of communications has won the day making it seem as if we need more and more complex forms of interaction to achieve or arrive at rich yet simple experiences. All forms of communications to varying degrees are about interaction at different levels. Every form of communication begins with conversations and radiates outwards to media and then loops back. There is an exquisite beauty to this endless loop of information, talk, discussion, blogging, twittering and talking some more. The continuity between all of the parts is what makes communications processes so rich and engaging.

    Part Four

    Reader Comments (4)

    "The reality is that all media are interactive and the notion of the passive viewer was an invention of marketers to simplify the complexity of communications between images and people, between people and what they watch and between advertisers and their market."

    Recent articles about interface restrictions and "eroding" privacy policy:
    May 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterheidi may
    I'm in suspense waiting for part 4. Meanwhile I would still argue that there is a difference between a medium that inspires conversation and a medium that supports conversation. Yes, we could come together to discuss Kennedy's assassination (ok, not me personally, but people who were alive then) but that's not the same as actually engaging actively on the same channel that delivered the message.

    To see why that's important, just look at the Daily Show's awesome highlights of the most ridiculous moments on CNN. They often focus on CNN's weirdly distorted efforts to integrate what's happening online with what they are covering on air. But with a few notable exceptions (like the network's awesome user-generated photographic panorama during Obama's inauguration), the web-to-broadcast combination ends up feeling mostly bizarre. Tell me why I want to hear Wolf Blitzer read a bunch of tweets? I don't -- they're out of place. What I want is to engage with a medium where my voice, and my friends' voices, and our conversation, is fundamental to the experience, rather than a sideshow.

    So call me a victim of my generation (or more accurately, a victim of the generation about 10 years younger than me, which actually DID grow up online!) but I think there is something fundamentally, crucially and usefully different about a medium in which conversation is baked right in. And I fear that by eliding over the distinction between a natively conversational medium, and the conversations that emerged around previous forms of communication, we downplay the significance of the social web's shift away from active conversation and towards more message-push from big brands.

    That's a shift which should all care about -- and which we should be fighting every step of the way.
    May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra Samuel
    I agree completely about the oft overlooked interactive capabilities of traditional media.

    I also find yelling at my TV to be highly interactive and satisfying, especially during the news hour. I'm not sure it gets better than that, although now I can also go online and live blog to the news producers directly while the show airs, which I appreciate. Interestingly though, I had to learn to dumb my comments down just so in order to get published. At first my comments were not showing up. So I studied the tone of the blogs. I started misspelling a few words here and there and using slightly garbled grammar - but communicating the same ideas. You know, just make myself sound like an average Jane, a real person who does something other than think all day and therefore has a worthy opinion built on worthy living - in short, a typical American. It worked like a charm. My comments get published every time.

    I know that this bias may be particular to news media culture in the US, but I think there is something to think about here in terms of common denominators. Having more pathways to talk back, as Samuel references, does not necessarily mean having the opportunity to articulate better.
    May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterValery Lyman
    RE:Anyway, I think we’re seeing both a downward trend in blogging and twittersphere stuff. It’s loosing its cache I think:

    I'm not so sure this article reveals a downward trend, but rather that people are figuring out they are ultimately in charge of the technologies they choose to use. I see this as a very positive sign for social networking (at least in terms of this particular article). Perhaps the novelty has worn off so we can now see through to the actual pieces that make up the system.

    I personally waited until just last month to join Facebook, even though I've been lurking through my husband's profile for years. What made me actually hit the 'join' button this time over other times, was my turning it into a conceptual art piece (cause ya know, conceptual art is way cooler than being on facebook!):
    May 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterheidi may

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