March 11, 2009...2:39 pm

Where the fun’s at

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True, I stole the title of this post from Jeremy Tanner, but I don’t think he’ll mind too much since we’re speaking on a panel together this weekend at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas along with Steve Swedler and Todd Huffman.

How Social Networks are Killing the Revolution
I know, there’s a lot of drama in that title, but there’s a lot of drama on the Internet. For a bit of a preview on what we’ll be addressing in our panel discussion, Steve participated in an interview with Belinda Acosta in the Austin Chronicle, along with two other participants in upcoming SXSW panels, on how the Internet — or rather if — the Internet helps foster positive social change.

Some thoughts from Steve:

I think that one of the big problems we have with the Internet are expectations. We talk about the Internet as shrinking the world and creating a global economy and community, but this is simply a dream. The number of people not on the Internet still outnumber those that are. And the number of people using the Internet for purposes of connecting with the global community is far less than people would have us believe. My supposition is that the majority of online “friendships” fall into three categories: “familiar,” “validating,” and “false.” We seek out those types of relationships because they are safe and comfortable.

From the perspective of someone in communications, I can’t help but think about this in terms of new barriers. Just because web-based communication helps tear down some of the old barriers, or at least make them less relevant doesn’t mean we aren’t putting new barriers in place.

The digital divide is just one such barrier.

In the past we had geographic barriers, socio-political barriers, race barriers and/or class barriers that held people from different groups at arm’s length.

So the question I would like to pose to you is, are we creating new silos of information and relationships on the social web, or does the Internet just redefine our definition of local?
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  • Absolutely we are creating new silos! Technology changes; people don’t.

    The one really cool part of studying literature is how fascinating it is to find humans are slaves to the “human condition” (I think the kids are now calling this the Universal Idea) The same pride, jealousy, love, angst, lust, rapture, power, etc. that tormented Plato is playing out the same with tweople on Twitter.

    That is why the “paperless office” never happened and probably never will. That is why the “twitter elite” emerged from a supposedly flat communication pool. That is why some people get to speak at SXSW and others are home writing comments on blog posts. :-)

    The human condition is why there is no real difference between the Trojan War and the Iraqi War. No matter how much military history was studied, it is all about one group of human beings imposing their will on another. Same war, different players no matter what marketing spin you put on it. (This is not a political comment, merely historical, so don’t waste time arguing this point, please or you will miss the larger one.)

    If you could live long enough, say 2,000 years, you would see how all of this arcs. But we’re each given a few decades to scurry around and make as much of a personal mark on the timeline of humanity with whatever tools we have. (500 years ago, it was how many copies of a printed Bible I had. Now, it is how many followers I have on Twitter.) We may THINK we’re coming in to help change the world, but we’re really coming in, hoping to pee on a piece of Internet space and that others will see us pee and recognize our space. Then, the goal is to expand our pee range before others pee where we want to pee before we die or get bumped off by younger, faster better looking puppies. (excuse the metaphor. I’m a dog.)

    Why the idea of technology breaking down barriers is even part of the argument just shows the naivete some people have of the power of the human condition over us. Or maybe it shows the facet of hope in the human condition. Or maybe it is the fuel that keep us peeing instead of laying down and dying in despair.

    • I’m sure you’re right in the very grandest sense. If we take a long enough view, there is no nuance — nothing changes. However, if we are able to look closer, things do change in subtle ways at least from one generation to the next.

      I’m sure one could argue that this variance simply works to maintain such universal realities in the long term, but the entire notion of “universality” is rooted in Western thought, which could also be argued to be yet another silo of information since it is hardly inclusive of other worldviews that don’t believe in the same notions of universal truth or include works from non-Western traditions, or women.

      The silos aren’t going away, but they are changing. Old barriers are dissipating while new ones are being erected. Will history label this a wash? Who knows?

  • I’ve had a few people I went to high school with friend me on Facebook, and, I swear, it’s like high school all over again. I’m on the peripheral “listening” to them gossip about so-and-so or share personal exploits.

    To them, and I’d venture to say a majority of users, the Internet is merely an extension of their real life social scene.

    The barriers that exist there find their way to the ‘Net.

    I hope that make some sense.

  • It was great to meet you at SXSW! The Belmont was a ton of fun, but way too crowded. Sorry we didn’t get to chat more!


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