Stop Worrying, Be Networked
I used to like Steve Heimoff because he was willing to listen to or carefully read a pitch I'd throw his way about a client. Then I started to like him more because he seemed to have a similar appreciation for wine styles as me. These days I still like him for these reasons. But like him even more because he makes me think harder about my assumptions and understandings of my business and world, even when he's wrong.
Take for example Steve's recent blog post on "Backlash Against Social Media Gathers Steam" in which he appears to agree with the view that all this networking and socializing through our various gadgets is "intruding into the social contract" and adheres to the notion that social media is "not only not bringing us closer and making us better, more dexterous communicators, but in fact is achieving exactly the opposite."
First, let's stop worrying that communicating via social networks, email, text and blog comments is in anyway isolating us from the benefits of real human contact and communication. One need not be looking another person in the eye, no where they live or actually belong to the same geographic community of another person to communicate with them intimately and effectively.
It might be hard, but imagine the person living before cars were commonplace and who happened to be born into a mid-sized town of 15,000. Now imagine they have an interest in ballet, paper airplanes or wine. The only way they had of sharing and communicating these interests with anyone else was the lonely act of reading a specialty magazine published monthly, traveling long distances to a place where groups of ballet aficionados or wine lovers or paper airplane enthusiasts could be found, or being content to socialize with the few people in town who might share these interests but were just as likely to be loathsome folks who picked their noses and smelled of too much Aramis.
Things have changed.
Today, you need not put up with unbearable personalities or a stinky, Aramis-wearers in order to discuss the finer points of terroir or the benefits of decanting a young wine. Today, online social forums like Facebooks or wine discussion boards and new communication tools like text messaging allow you to indulge your latest wine epiphany anytime, anywhere. That's called progress.
One of Steve's and many other people's concerns too is that all this remote communicating is bad for communal living: "where ten years ago patrons [of cafes] might have been debating about politics,
gossiping, or playing chess, today they’re absorbed in their own little
worlds. They might as well be on the Space Shuttle as in a crowded room
with other human beings."
This is something that Steve and others are just going to have to get over. These folks still are debating politics, gossiping, playing chess and even discussing wine, but they just aren't doing it with their neighbor at the next table. They are doing this with other, like-minded, likely friendly people and possibly even close friends who don't happen to be currently exposed to the same acoustic "Coffee House" music droning over the speakers that you and your laptop-consumed neighbor at the next table must listen too, as though any hit from the 80s and 70s can be turned into an acoustic version successfully. (Are earplugs and an iPod too anti-social for the local coffee shop?)
And let's not forget the benefits of social networking to the facilitation of getting together face-to-face. If there was ever a better set of tools than Facebook, Twitter, discussion boards, texts and email for getting like-minded people to show up in the same place at the same time, I'm not aware of it. Everyday people are using devises and networks to gather their "friends" and even their FRIENDS in a real setting to taste wine, talk about wine, drink too much wine and say silly things about wine after drinking too much of it.
Steve and others believe there is a backlash underway against social media. If that backlash is against folks who carelessly and selfishly ignore propriety by talking too loud into their phones on an elevator or in a gym, something at which Steve rightfully takes offense, then consider me part of the backlash. But that's not a backlash against social media. It's a backlash against buffoonery. And I'm all for it.
Steve quotes and agrees with Jason Lanier's observation, “I know quite a few people, most of them young adults, who are
proud to say that they have accumulated thousands of friends on
Facebook. Obviously, their statements can be true only if the idea of
friendship is diminished.”
This is incorrectly stated. The last sentence should read: "Obviously their statements can be true only if the word 'friendship' has been given a secondary meaning that only has partial relationship to it's original meaning."
Anyone who believes the way the word "Friend" is used on Facebook is the same as the way it is used when you describe that person who you tell your fears and secrets to in confidence just doesn't understand the value of co-opting words for purposes other than which those words were originally designed to function. It's a bit like believing that Right Wing Talk show hosts really believe President Obama is a reincarnation of Eugene Debs when they call him a "socialist", rather understanding the reality: They have used the word "socialist" to mean "I hate that motherf*cker".
So, to those who fear that social networking and socializing via networked computers may be dissolving the real and permanent kinds of bonds that arise between humans and within communities that only comes when you look a person in the eye, I say…calm down. What you are really witnessing is the rise of real, meaningful, important and even intimate communities based not on geography or proximity, but on common interest and common ideals. And believe it or not, these communities build bonds between their members. Those bonds, in some cases, result in friendships. Some result in opening bottles of wine with people that don't smell of an Aramis bath.