This Is Not the Social Media Revolution I’m Waiting For

I came across this post, “10 Ways Social Media Will Transform Events in 2010“, and, after reading it, I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s quote, “I don’t try to predict the future, I try to prevent it.” Anyway, the post is about how social media and other technologies will change meetings. First, some fisking. Consider this:

Attendees will not wait for microphones to ask questions. They will text or tweet those questions as they think of them. Attendees will not wait until the end of a session to ask questions that came up in the first five minutes of the presentation. This does not mean that the speaker has to stop his presentation to answer the questions. Rather, there should be a mechanism to send questions to the speaker in real time.


Admittedly, in a large setting, asking questions if something isn’t clear is difficult. On the other hand, maybe the listener should be trying harder, particularly since he is probably paying less than full attention to the speaker, what with all of the social media gadgets he’s playing with. And have you ever given a talk in front of a large audience? The last thing you need is pestering. Humans, not computers, give talks (more about that later).
Then:

Attendees will answer questions for the speaker – while she is talking. If the questions for the speaker are streamed through the backchannel, these questions will be available to all attendees. E-learning research tells us that it is every likely that attendees will start answering each other’s questions, while the speaker (instructor) is still talking.

Unfortunately, E-learning research does not tell us if the people answering the questions are fucking morons. But I’m sure this will work out just fine. Finally, there’s the never-ending meeting:

Events will become communities that last for weeks and months rather than a few short days. Event specific social networks, create a social hub where we can start conversations before events and continue them long after the event finished. Creating a social space where attendees can network and discuss trends, hot topics, industry (or business) challenges and best practices will be extend the life of your event.

Awesome! Instead of needing several days to catch up from the meeting, I can be perpetually behind. Meetings end for a good reason.
So there endeth the snark.
Seriously, I don’t mean to pick on this post per se, and I think it describes what is happening to a considerable extent (much to my obvious chagrin). But it seems to be part of a larger Social Media Triumphalism trend that treats people as machines or computers, rather than human beings.
Before I continue, I’m not claiming some kind of non-materialist explanation for how we perceive the world or how we think: that is materialist. But in terms of providing meaning, both personal significance and simply our ability to process what we’re experiencing, we aren’t computers. We don’t ‘process in the background’ very well. Tweeting, emailing, and so on during presentations reduces our involvement and engagement in the actual experience.
When we present to others, we need to have a rhythm, a focus, a cadence which also doesn’t lend itself to backtracking to something mentioned ten minutes ago; peppering the speaker with questions is not a good thing*. Nor is speaking a binary, pairwise interaction: if you have to revisit something that is clear to rest of the audience, that degrades the presentation for the rest of the audience. One of the worst things about ‘social media’ is that it appears to have infantilized us: if it pops into our heads, say it! Forget any obligations to a larger group, or considering what others might be experiencing. Say it! This is the narcissism of small children.
Nor are people ever-expanding collections of links. We need beginnings and endings, even if those endings are artificial, because we don’t multitask well. We have to put something down, and move on. Experiences have to be bounded for us to make sense of them–and, of course, we can only do so many things, which also requires drawing boundaries. Meetings need to end. (An aside: This is also why I think adding tons of supplemental data, not to mention reader comments, to articles is dreadful. I can’t spend my entire life reading commentary, rebuttals to commentary, and so on).
Our ability to bombard each other with incessant streams of data in many ways seems to be slowly degrading our humanity. As Jaron Lanier put it in You Are Not a Gadget, having thousands of Facebook friends degrades the notion of friendship. We’re doing the same thing with public communication. If this is the future, social media is turning communication into something useful for computers, not human experience.
This is not the social media revolution I’ve been waiting for.
*If it’s an unclear talk, no amount of questioning will fix that to any significant degree.

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7 Responses to This Is Not the Social Media Revolution I’m Waiting For

  1. Matthew Platte says:

    So our elementary school teachers were wrong when they stopped us from passing notes and whispering amongst ourselves? Good thing Mrs. Denny didn’t live to learn this new-fangled method.

  2. Kate from Iowa says:

    Yeah, the ground’s vibrating here, what with so many teachers spinning in thier graves.
    Is this “degradation of our humanity” (great phrase btw) really that much of a problem, though? Except for a few over-wealthy or under-prioritized idiots, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot of people with tons of gadgetry and a page on every social networking site out there.
    Of course, I tend to hang out with (well, text,) fellow like-minded hermit/luddites…

  3. Joshua says:

    if you have to revisit something that is clear to rest of the audience, that degrades the presentation for the rest of the audience.

    This bugged the Hell out of me in university. There’s always that one asshole who feels the need to ask a question every 30 minutes not because something is unclear to him but just to remind the professor that he’s there.

  4. Lyle says:

    At some colleges (caltech in particular) the ask questions as they come up theme was the way things were done (at least 1972-1976). If you had a question you either raised your hand or just interrupted. You did not need social media you just needed a set of norms to get this.

  5. BaldApe says:

    The main reason I got a Twitter account was to ask question on a radio show I listen to while I drive. (Don’t worry, I pull over before sending the tweet from my cell phone.)
    But when I tried that, it took 6 hours for the tweet to post. Not so good for a live radio show, huh?

  6. This sounds like the goofy shit that people who have never even attended a decent meeting or conference pull out of their asses.

  7. I found this site today and boy I am glad I did. This segment was great and it gave me some ideas about what I could and can’t do. It was great seeing and perusing. I will keep tuned in and keep up the good work!!

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