Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is the internet a soapbox or a conversation?

A friend with considerable business success told me yesterday that she thinks social media is just a passing fad. While she might be right about any particular manifestation of social media, she probably doesn't want to be right about all of social media. Whether she - and the many traditional thinkers like her- understand it or not, social media is about the difference between a world where we each yell options at everyone else and a world of conversation.

I would rather live in a world where people talk to each other.

Social media gives us a way to talk to people we might never meet and to talk to people when they have the time or attention to offer to us. Those of us who converse on the computer find the telephone a little loud and intrusive. We would rather pick our conversations than have them thrust upon us. On a scale of a thousand years, landline telephones are beginning to look like a passing fad.

What is not a fad - what is constant, is the desire of human beings to share stories. Many of us would argue that is best done face to face - when you can watch the way light passes over the face of the storyteller and hear the breathing of the audience as it falls into the rhythm the story is setting. There is no substitute for presence.

That's why social media can seem to be so much work. In reaching beyond the limits of soapboxes - with their scripts and their one-way sense of story - social media asks us to create a new richness to our communication. It demands layers of meaning communicated in multi-media, a mixture of colours and rhythms and perceptions. It is intricate and filled with errors. And while it is not exactly like life, it is closer than staged utterance usually comes.

If social media is a fad, then what comes next? What happens when people stop trying to find richer new ways to tell each other stories?

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