Last night I attended my first Social Media Club London… gathering? Event? Happening? Whatever this thing is, I really enjoyed it.
We started with a preamble on the printing revolution and how there are parallels between that, and what we’re going through now: the dissemination of information, the spread of ideas, control/influence and so on. For once, I realised history actually can teach me something and I’ll be looking into this specific subject more deeply. Meanwhile there’s Melvyn Bragg’s excellent In Our Time programme on the matter (currently only available as a RealAudio stream and not, unfortunately, a podcast).
Another major theme was the ‘myopia’ of living in revolutionary times. When you’re in a revolution it’s hard to see outside it. I found this particularly relevant to my experience of being told, as an IT student 20 years ago, that I was ‘at the beginning of the IT revolution’. So, has the IT revolution ended yet? Or is this still happening, in the form of the social media revolution? If so, what happened to the web revolution – was that in-between, or is that still happening? I think the answer is that it’s a communications revolution spanning the whole lot, with mini-revolutions of the way that communication is delivered. Which, as a nice full-circle argument, brings us neatly back to the printing revolution.
After the (excellent) preamble – and I wish I knew people’s names, I’m sure I’ll find out next time around – we mulled over some of these issues. There was discussion of the dynamics of revolution in terms of promotion vs suppression. How can communities self-police? What are the ethics of ‘gaming’ sites such as Digg? My take on it was that life will find a way. Ideas and communication of them cannot be indefinitely and totally suppressed. You only have to look at Pandora, which is now Global Pandora to get around the US-only restriction recently imposed, to see this in action today.
It’s a game of two halves, Brian
These two themes – ‘the long-term view’ and ‘good vs evil’ – emerged so strongly that we split into two groups to discuss them separately. I opted for the long-term view group. Key question: when do you know the revolution has ended? I guess when people don’t talk about it any more. It’s more an absence than a presence. For example, I remember my very first email. It was a totally new experience and I didn’t know what to do. Did I start it with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’? How did I end it? What was the tone? Was this a letter, or a memo? And yet only last week I responded to an email saying “Great to hear from you.” I obviously wasn’t ‘hearing’ at all, but now email is so much part of my life that I don’t even think about the medium any more. So when the term ‘social media’ disappears, we will ‘be there’.
There were also attempts to quantify how long this would take. A good estimate was ten years, quite simply because that’s the amount of time between teenage years, and employment. In other words, teenagers are already using these tools completely intuitively, and will continue to do so when they graduate. To them, it won’t be social media: it’ll be communication. Meanwhile, another whole new generation of teenagers will in turn be adopting completely new ways of communicating.
The final whistle
Interestingly, I listened to In Business on my mobile on the way back and they were discussing exactly this. It appears that younger people now expect to be able to use social networking sites in the office. More importantly, their contemporary clients do too, so business will be done using them in the near future. It just takes the older generation, who generally don’t ‘get’ social media but control the means of accessing it, to enable them – as in trust them – to do so. Which again brings us back to the idea of this being a revolution.
Fun in the baths
We then wrapped up. But we couldn’t stop! More themes emerged. One of these was the relative slowness of social media than face-to-face interaction for really finding out about people. Say you have ten minutes to interview a job candidate. Will you do this on the phone, face-to-face, or with messaging? Most people would opt for face-to-face, as it tells you so much more about what the person is really like rather than how they would like to be perceived. As mass communication becomes more multimedia and immersive, this will change.
On the other hand, social media is a lot quicker at disseminating information. Given that it lacks the nuances of face-to-face communication – how many times have you misconstrued an email? – and the lack of rigour of some bloggers for the truth, this has the potential for untruths to spread like wildfire – as Jeremy Pepper recently illustrated. We all know this happens, but it was interesting that people noted this could account for why younger people are so much more open with their communications. Perhaps, through their online interactions, they feel the need to share everything quickly to compensate for the medium’s slowness, and this affects their ‘offline’ interactions too.
Over the moon
And so, we finished. In all I’d say it was a really stimulating evening. The talk was more about general trends and theories than personal experience or actual projects but I’d hazard a guess that each event is different. I’m sure I’ll find out – I’m a fully signed up member now.
Five minutes after leaving, I realised I hadn’t even thought about handing out any of the business cards I’d taken with me. Which is the way it should be.