After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

We’re Not Social Media ‘Chips’

Posted on September 11, 2011
Filed Under Technology | Leave a Comment

Here from Ivan Walsh is an interesting effort to equate the use of social media by humans with a computer’s operating system. It notes that an operating system includes “software that supports a computer’s basic functions, such as scheduling tasks, executing applications, and controlling peripherals” and includes “multiuser, multiprocessing, multitasking, multithreading and real-time operating systems.”

The big difference, though, is that an operating system is largely automatic. Learning social media takes time and is largely happenstance – it’s a far more random process than a computer chip allows – at least I’ve found it so.

What both computers and social media have in common, though, is, “forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate.” And they both operate under the same hood (whether Mac or PC). They’re forms of applied technology, though social media seem much more happenstance in learning than I remember my first computers to be. (And watch out, I just discovered, for spammers on Facebook.)

I wouldn’t push too far Walsh’s notion of  social media as “an operating system for humans.” That’s an interesting concept and, obviously, a trigger for discussion. But social media involve more of an agglomeration of randomness than, I trust, any computer ever will. That may be the nature of humanity – to take paths that suddenly open and lead to new associational vistas, mental and emotional. Computers are more directed, controlled and, indeed, programmed to stick to the relatively straight and narrow than humans will ever be.

Encore’s Dennis Owen offers that a more apt analogy is to “a really good cocktail party. Social media has some advantages,” Dennis continues. “You could never fit that many people into a cocktail party, even in Bill Gates’ house. Unlike most cocktail parties, which are drawn from an existing social network, you meet people from different walks of life. But it has one major disadvantage: It’s much easier to take the measure of someone face to face.”
Walsh argues that, because we’re “inside” the social media realm it’s hard for us to see how it operates. But why would we then be spending varying amounts of time – depending on our interests – in learning to use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, for instance? If we were “inside” the system, wouldn’t we be utterly under its control, even if unaware of that as our fate?

The good news about social media is that its channels are truly a means of gaining insight and extending influence among an array (possibly vast) of people we wouldn’t otherwise have a prayer of meeting. They extend horizons and aspirations, provide counsel and condolences, all from our self-directed computer keyboard and screen. They can, indeed, enable “a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate.”

Social media, in short, extend our reach almost unimaginably. What we do with our newly gained insights and associations is up to us. We’re not chips off the old (or new) social media block.  – Doug Bedell



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