The other day I had a conversation with a group of people with mixed experience in the sphere of social media. I found myself defending social media. Here’s why…
Some nay-sayers hate the internet. They say that we’re losing our ability to connect on a human-to-human level and that this is the fault of things like Facebook and Twitter. Instead of talking to each other like we used to back in the golden days of fences and neighbours and cups of tea, we ignore the people around us and revert into a computer world at the expense of ‘true connection’.
I agree. We have become more insular in this modern society of ours. I also believe that social media is an opportunity to enhance ‘true connection’, not diminish it.
Social media facilitates the formation of communities of interest, unconstrained by geographical location. Information is power and now power can be shared at the click of a button.
The distributed network that is inherent in social media allows for the democratisation of information. This democratisation is removing the asymmetry of power that comes with centralisation, reducing the iron grip on information of those who have traditionally held it – the gatekeepers.
It is why we are seeing the sunset of the music industry in its existing form. It is why the publishing industry is set to follow suit. It is why the old media are struggling to retain relevancy. The struggles we are seeing – from mass violations of copyright through e-piracy, to the many and varied attempts at exercising what vestiges of societal power remain to the old captains of creative industry – are functions of a system that is in the throes of adaptation.
Much has been said of the power that social networking sites had during the Christchurch earthquake and then the Japan earthquake. A distributed network of individuals was able to capture and share information, and create online communities of interest at a far greater rate than the old media could ever hope to.
As that terrifying event unfolded, I was glued to Facebook and Twitter for scraps of information. I found out all sorts of things that were not yet available on the mainstream media via the #eqnz hashtag on Twitter. At one point I was able to call my parents, who had been evacuated from their house in Sumner and were staying with family across town, to tell them about a community meeting that had been organised by earthquake officials about the evacuations. A lot of important information ended up being transmitted at that meeting. I found out about that meeting on Twitter.
You probably heard about the University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army; a not-for-profit collection of highly organised, highly mobilised and highly effective volunteers. The Volunteer Army deployed throughout the the city in the aftermath of the quake. They shovelled silt, delivered port-a-loos and provided all manner of vital support. At one point, the Ministry of Social Development even had the Volunteer Army supplementing their own staff delivering welfare information to hard hit Christchurch suburbs.
And it’s still going. From what I can see, the ‘shopfront’ of this lean mean volunteering machine is all run off Facebook. Each day the organisers use their Facebook page to update their volunteers with what work needs doing, where they need to be and when. The Volunteer Army has been a vital part of the post-quake recovery in Christchurch and it’s hard to see how it could have mobilised and operated so efficiently in the absence of social media.
In addition to the enabling effect of social media for the Volunteer Army, social media and the distributed network are a massive boon for creativity and art.
My number one celebrity crush, Amanda Palmer, dubbed the ‘Social Media Queen of Rock and Roll’ by the Huffington Post, is a recent Shorty Award finalist in the Category of Connecting People.
Amanda Palmer was nominated because:
She has embraced social media, and Twitter in particular, to stay connected with her fans as the recording industry struggles to stay relevent. Palmer uses her verified Twitter account to share photos, concert information, and dispatches from her travels and day-to-day life.
I happen to love Amanda Palmer’s music, although that is beside the point. It is the business model she uses that I find compelling. It is highly creative and it is powered entirely by social media. More about it here if you’re interested.
I also recommend you check out her address at Harvard University where she speaks on ‘Toward a Patronage Society’:
In this address, she states:
I have a deep belief that if artists have faith in their audiences, that it may not be every single passerby, but even if one in fifty people or one in a hundred people who pass by like what you have to offer, you can make a living.
There are heaps of other cool social media connectivity case studies on the Shorty Awards site, including winner Shannon Miller, a school district librarian and technology specialist who uses social media tools to help local students connect with their favorite authors, as well as with other students and educators around the globe.
The potential of social media to enhance our ability to connect and to create is immense.
We still have neighbours, it’s just that now we’re not constrained by pesky things like geography and the space-time continuum.
Is social media awesome or the devil’s tool?
What are your positive experiences with social media?
What about experiences with social media that make you wish that Al Gore had never invented the internet superconnecto?