Does Social Media Have a Future — Or Is It Just a Stepping Stone to the Next Big Thing?
Preface: Jim Murray and I have been credited by some with pioneering the two-writer conversational format on LinkedIn and later on beBee. Which is gratifying, if admittedly somewhat of an exaggeration.
This installment sees a further evolution of the concept, namely, an expansion of participants in the conversation to four, adding Don Kerr and Kevin Pashuk for this conversation.
The idea is to increase the diversity of opinion, in the service of continuing to demonstrate that writers who like and respect one another can, nevertheless, disagree and engage in genuine disagreement and discussion.
So, without further ado, I give you “(HE SAID...HE SAID) ^2”.
PHIL: Early social media began with chat rooms and forum boards, where users could post ideas and opinions, upon which other users could comment — in text. Then we saw the emergence of platforms where users could add graphic images and photos. And more recently, sound and video via YouTube and similar connections. Just a week or two ago, beBee implemented its “live buzz” feature, which puts live audio-video directly on their site, in a way that encourages people to speak, rather than write.
No doubt, some will say this evolution into a true multimedia medium is a good thing. But personally, I am not so sure.
I suspect it will increasingly degrade the ability of our society to focus for more than a brief minute, if that, on any topic.
We know, for example, that television habituated us to the “sound byte” and the quick video clip. And that, as a result, few of us have the patience anymore to read through a documentary book. Sit through a documentary film, with incorporated sound and fury, maybe. But wade through a textual tome? Gimme a break. I know I listen to many more novels than I read.
Canadian advertising and marketing guru, Marshall McLuhan said in the 60s that, “The medium is the message.” Could it be that his well known, at the time obscure statement was actually a prediction of today’s evolution in “communication”?
Does social media have a future, in any form that we are likely to recognize readily? Or are we going to see content ever further subordinated to, and immersed in presentation, in an evolved form of … god knows what?
JIM: God knows what indeed. Let’s face it, nobody can predict the future. Some can make educated guesses based on new technologies that come along, but that’s pretty much it.
I’m one of these guys who believe that social media has kind of always existed.
Ever since there has been language, people have been sitting around fires, hearths, drawing rooms, pubs, coffee shops, private clubs, living rooms, back decks etc. telling each other stories, writing letters, chatting on the phone. Today a lot of people do the same thing on line through social media sites, blogging, Skype and email.
The human voice has been the constant common denominator here. And as long as it remains the common denominator, the idea of social communication will remain strong and viable.
But these days I keep hearing stories about bots that will write your blog posts and profiles for you. This to me isn’t so much about technology as it is about people gaming the system, yet again, which has always been a part of communication and is growing to be more and more a part of it every day.
I’m old enough to remember a time when there was no such thing as spam. Today, the substantial majority of the emails I get come from either bots or crooks.
As far as the future goes, my operating theory is that I’m happy to keep writing as long as I know that at least a few humans are reading. The optimist in me, definitely the 20% of my personal 80/20 Differential is hoping real people, as opposed to their avatars, stick with it.
As far as live video in social media, it very well may catch on, but there will always be a substantial number of people who, for reasons of shyness or self-consciousness will not participate, which is a bit of a limiting factor for the idea, but by no means, a deal breaker
DON: As I see it, early social media began with priests telling stories to illiterate villagers and in some respects little has changed since the time of Yorick the Barber.
We’ve had a tendency to let the technological wow factor take our eyes from the prize. To my mind that prize is increased human engagement and the potential for meaningful conversation.
As recently as 20 years ago though we predominantly conversed face to face with friends, family, co-workers - people we actually knew. Now, we’re involved in daily exchange - sometimes meaningful, often farcical - with people whom we’ve never met, never will meet, in some cases never ever want to meet and yet we’re spending hours of our time batting the commentary back and forth like a spirited game of badminton.
I am of the mind that much of what we do on-line is not social at all. It is mechanical. We are prodded by an electronic stimulus - we respond. Almost Pavlovian and with almost as much thought and with a lesser reward than the treat the dog received.
One of the consequences of current life, is that our minds are in a constant state of 'partial attention'. When our minds flip back and forth it's unproductive. It has a cost for business and a cost for people. Technology has supercharged the pace of life and business. Interruptions, the onslaught of email and being able to connect with the world 24/7 is getting in the way of what we're trying to get done and plays havoc with our attention. The average employee now sends and receives 121 business emails per day and this is forecast to grow (global study by tech market research firm Radicati Group). And did you know....it takes 23 minutes to get back on task after our attention is yanked away (2006 study Gloria Mark, University of California). It’s not just a problem for individual workers, it’s an institutional problem.
Then consider these stats from the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the site Statistic Brain:
Average attention span in 2000 = 12 seconds
Average attention span in 2015 = 8.25 seconds
Average attention span of a goldfish = 9 seconds (no, I don’t know how you test the attention span of a goldfish)
And how real is the engagement we achieve via social media. Again from Statistic Brain consider these internet browsing figures derived from data taken from almost 60,000 pages*:
Percent of page views lasting less than 4 seconds = 17%
Percent of page views that lasted more than 10 minutes = 4%
Percent of words read on web pages with 111 words or less = 49%
(*Source: Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” in the ACM Transactions on the Web, vol. 2, no. 1 (February 2008), article #5.)
Not much social about that!
KEVIN: Does Social Media have a future? That depends on what you want to do with it.
Too many pundits (ourselves included) have a tendency to talk about the virtue of the tool rather than the outcomes we desire.
“That’s a really nice hammer Jim, is the handle ergonomically balanced?” rather than “Wow Jim! Those cupboards are fantastic! It provides a whole lot more storage!” (That’s my annual quota of exclamation marks in one sentence.)
I’m only in this discussion because I like you guys, and I’m hoping to steer it away from talking about the merits of technology – just like I do with technology in schools.
Social media platforms start out with the best of intentions, but quickly devolve into memes, cat videos, and the biggest time sink hole ever invented.
They do so because a majority of the users don’t know what to do with social media.
They see SM as the end game, not the tool to deliver the end game.
There’s the old maxim, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts looking like a nail.”
We force fit every new feature into our metaphor, without worrying about the message we are trying to get across.
Take Live Video as an example.
If we approached public speaking, writing or even conversation with a friend with the same randomness, we would quickly be on the hunt for a new gig (or a new friend).
There are too many examples of video on all platforms that reinforce the maxim: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Just in case you think that I woke up on the wrong side of the universe this morning, I am an active user of social media as a tool to deliver and extend my ability to connect, to collaborate, and to communicate to an audience I could not reach without those tools.
I agree with you guys (if you define social media as the medium used to communicate) that SM has been around a long time.
It’s not the next big thing. It’s already here.
It’s just being misused IMO and missing its potential.
That’s enough for now. My goldfish needs feeding.
PHIL: Okay, Kevin, I am really glad that you’ve relieved me (pun intended) of being the first to piss on the instant video parade. That said, I do think I see where you’re headed. However, before we go there, let’s set the record straight — or maybe look for a finer brush with which to paint us all.
For the record, when you say that, “… a majority of the users don’t know what to do with social media. They see SM as the end game, not the tool to deliver the end game …”, I agree 125%.
Does this mean, Kevin, old buddy, good friend, you haven’t read everything I’ve published on social media? At least twice?
Anyway, I’m not sure I’d say social media is being “misused” — that is, used incorrectly, in a prescriptive sense — but more that our society is failing to take advantage of its true potential.
Sort of like using a pencil to scratch your back, instead of using it to communicate. (If, of course, anyone on social media remembers, or knew in the first place how to write with a pencil.)
Seems clear to me that, at times, we are getting dumber about communication, rather than smarter. Something, about which, I’ll lay ten to one odds that Jimbo there has some choice words to say.
JIM: I have always been a bit of a conspiracy theorist and as such cannot help but believe that the Internet itself and Social Media specifically have been designed to slowly and gradually dumb down the human race.
This is being done so that the people who want to exploit humans for their own gain have a malleable work force that is controlled by fear of losing their pathetic low paying dead end jobs. It also makes them more resistant to rebelling against the concept of armed aggression, which is, in totality, one of the most profitable enterprises mankind has ever devised.
A few weeks ago a report was issued by a group of post 9/11 architects which concluded that the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre could only have occurred through a controlled demolition. This meant that someone had to be working in concert with the ‘terrorists’ to plant those explosives, and time the blasts to make them look like they were caused by the aircraft smashing into the buildings.
And what happened to this report that should have caused a Defcon 3 furor? Nothing. It just got shoved down the endless vertical carousel of social media. In the meantime, someone is getting away with the murders of 3000 people, which in turn led to the beginning of the War On Terror and its ensuing profitability, which, not coincidentally, benefited people named Bush and Cheney to a massive degree.
And why has there been no furor, no congressional investigation into this highly credible theory? Well one reason is, IMO, the majority of people have been sufficiently dumbed and numbed by the onslaught of everything that’s coming at them 24/7 that they can’t even really grasp the significance of that report or the event that it so brilliantly analyzed.
Plus, if you looked at Don’s figures above, you will see that with the severely diminished attention spans of the majority of social media users (which is the majority of people in our culture), you cannot help but conclude this all make perfect sense.
The bottom line for me is that you cannot lose your humanity to a little screen you stare at every day where most of the stuff that comes at you is contrived to lull you into a state of apathy or stupidity.
You cannot allow yourself to let the important stuff get mashed up with the trivial bull chips. And you cannot allow yourself to give into the fear mongering that is being foisted on you every few seconds 24/7/365.
So for me, social media carries with it a huge diminishing return. As it gets more mature, it becomes more infected with whatever crap those who benefit from having control of a culture want to have placed there.
I know that sounds a bit out there. But if it didn’t it wouldn’t be a conspiracy theory. It would be a reality, which is much worse.
DON: Can’t subscribe to your conspiracy theories Jim. Perhaps you’re channeling Oliver Stone, but when credence is given to theorists who suggest that everyone from Ted Cruz’s father to the mafia to Fidel to freaking Donald Duck were responsible for JFK’s assassination, my sceptic shield has been mounted.
I think it almost impossible to delude an entire population regardless of the medium. Yes, factions will arise that can create unbelievable results - see the Vatican, see the Jesuits, see the Crusades, see McCarthyism, see Nazism, see Trumpism — but there always remains alive some core of common sense.
Where ‘social’ media support the darker side of humanity, however, is in its ability to spread falsehoods and rumours and innuendo and just plain bull chips (to use Phil’s term) with very little accountability.
In many senses, and perhaps an ‘affinity’ network is at even greater risk on this front, we find ourselves more and more in silos speaking to like-minded people in what amounts to little less than an echo chamber. And, as we have all witnessed and experienced, the relative anonymity and distance of ‘social’ media provide fertile ground for outrageous responses to anyone who dares to hold a different perspective.
My hope for the beBee platform is that it will encourage the spirit of positive expression of even negative opinion. There is quite simply nothing at all wrong with offering powerful ripostes, when one does so with some degree of dignity. You find that this is more often the reality when you are sitting face to face with a person engaged in conversation. Tempers may flare. Rudeness may arise - I once called a very dear friend (who still is a very dear friend) a ‘pompous fat f&%k’ in the heat of an argument, but two beers later we were laughing. That doesn’t happen on ‘social’ media. There is no nuance. There is no opportunity to read physical reaction. There is no opportunity to feel genuine empathy for a contrarian.
Case in point, you are aware that on LinkedIn not too long ago, an elderly packaging company CEO told me to ‘go f&%k myself because I dared to present a comment which challenged his version of the truth according to Trump. I suspect he would have been reluctant to do so had we been having the same exchange sitting across from each other while quaffing a Martini.
That’s where I contend that ‘social’ media is a misnomer. These vehicles for exchange are quite simply just another medium. One which can at times be fantastically rewarding and at other times - not so much.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
KEVIN: I’d like nothing better than reading each of your posts twice, Phil, but you know with the deluge of (I’m trying to think of a word somewhere between ‘effluent’ and ‘gold’) stuff bombarding us on each and every platform we belong to, it is a futile effort to try and keep up, not only with you, but my other connections.
As Jim said, the important things, the good things, and the ‘gold’ are lost in the flood. Media companies are vying for ‘eyeballs’ on Social Media, and as such the headlines are hoping to get the reader to click through (thus generating income) by making outlandish claims.
I don’t think there’s a conspiracy per se, but rather a large group of people who have determined that ‘impressions’ are more important than good content. People are drawn to the sensational, the path of least resistant, and the brief shot of endorphins granted by the latest titillating story or image.
It just comes out looking like a conspiracy.
Every platform started out quite manageable, but escalated to the point where it took more and more time to find anything useful. The choice then becomes abandon the platform, or find ways to manage the volume of content.
LinkedIn, Facebook and others decided to do us a favour and curate the content. We know how that turned out. It certainly didn’t have our best interests at heart.
beBee is letting us self-curate. Most people won’t self-curate (e.g. Hide Hives, Mute Users) and that will certainly be their loss, since beBee will end up looking like all the others, and they will miss great stuff.
beBee is still developing, and curation tools are promised and will be welcomed when they come, but in the meantime, there are a number of recent posts about managing the volume.
To be the ‘Next Big Thing’, a social media platform needs to first and foremost determine that is more than a feature list and eyeballs for advertisers. It has to look at providing tools that enable its users to build ‘community’ – the way we have done for years, with the new capability of removing geography as a barrier.
You can be in a true community with people from all over the world. Like a real community, each member contributes, and engages, and argues, and yes, sometimes even tells another one to “F*CK OFF!” (but only because they are in the midst of a passionate discussion).
It is not about group think. It is not about censorship. It is also not a homogeneous bunch of ‘Friends’ who gather around the campfire singing Kumbaya.
There is diversity, and that’s a good thing. There is no expectation that I have to like boats, or fractals, or esoteric thinking, and you don’t have to like guitars, or cameras, or IT leadership. But we do want to connect with those who share our interests.
We can be very different (as each of the BeeZers demonstrates), and yet find great common ground. There’s nothing better to determine that what you believe is bull chips (or not) than to have to present that belief in a respectful way to others who think differently.
The platform that cracks the code to build genuine community is the one that will become the ‘Next Big Thing’.
PHIL: So, if I understand you guys correctly, the future of social media is to repeat its past, and the next big thing will go unnoticed, because by the time it comes along, we’ll all be too freakin’ dumb to recognize it. Thank you for having cleared that up for me.
Seriously though, if there are any identifiable themes running through this discussion, then one of them has to do with improving the social quality of social media, or at least with understanding what constitutes quality in social media itself (the medium), as opposed to the content deposited on, and carried by social media (the message).
Let me share this with you. I have for a number of years been a member of an email-based social - political discussion group, composed of about a hundred people, many of whom have never met face to face. The group includes business people, physicians, engineers, lawyers, accountants, teachers, scientists, and other professionals. It includes, as well, an ex reporter twice nominated for a Pulitzer, a former staff-writer for Sports Illustrated who had a book adapted into what became a very popular movie, several cops, one of whom was highly instrumental in breaking the John Wayne Gacy serial murder case, and even a couple of professional gamblers. Black, white, yellow, and in between. All manner of religious beliefs. Political views from the far left to the far right.
The discussions in this group are almost always “vibrant”, sometimes heated and frequently spiced with ad hominem jibes and repartee. But there is a general undercurrent of mutual respect and a sense of closeness born, I believe, from trust.
There is also genuine caring, as demonstrated a few years ago when the male partner of a couple who actively participated in the discussions passed away after a long chronic illness. The surviving partner was in tough straits, and the group spontaneously raised several thousand dollars to help that person through a difficult time. That, my friends, is as close to genuinely social as social media gets.
Perhaps, the “next big thing” will be the attainment of social community and global networking on the order of that which the worldwide web has from its beginnings promised to achieve, but which been prevented, by commercial exploitation and narrow vision, from delivering.
To paraphrase a baseball coach, I once had, keep
your eye on the substance, if you want to really connect.
Afterword: This is a pretty long piece, and of you made it this far, we thank you for sticking with it.
One of our objectives here has been to show how authentic engagement on social media is more than honey-coated expressions of mutual admiration — and that it can involve respect for others and trust in their underlying goodwill, without shying away from divergent viewpoints and conflicting opinion.
As is always the case on “HE SAID HE SAID”, you are sincerely invited to join the conversation. Try it, you’ll like it. — Phil Friedman
Author's Notes: Jim Murray can, and always will speak for himself. So can Don Kerr and Kevin Pashuk. You are free to post comments directed to any of us, on any version of this post of HSHS Squared that you see. and you'll always get an answer one way or the other.
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
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