Monday, April 08, 2013

10 things social media is yet to get right in the new society

The clamour for all things social could make you think nothing else existed remotely similar before 2000. Hobbes, 300 years ago puts paid to that. 

Whilst it would be difficult for anyone to deny the benefits of social media, the corollary is that its blind side obscures an array of pernicious tendencies.  Put succinctly, we have acquired social tools without the social etiquette or an acknowledgement of the framework that Hobbes considered important for the social contract. That is things that are ethically and morally right to do.

The effect has been a growing, perhaps more selfish (meism) social class, sometimes unable to see past the effects of their own screen. Of course this will change, but before that here's 10 things that social media and its evangelists are yet to help us get right.

1. Anti-social classrooms.

Until universities understand how to thoroughly uses social media in lectures and one of the deepest thinkers here includes Howard Rheingold, the design and exchange of knowledge will be found wanting.

One of the biggest setbacks is the now antiquated front-facing design of lecture rooms, followed by the inevitable FB time inbetween that crucial link in information. You could argue if the lecturers were more engaging this wouldn't happen, but that's not always the case. I have come across past students who

  • from the onset are buried in their FBs and when asked will say they can multi-skill. 
  • or that they were not supposed to be in lectures in the first place. 
Multiskilling is a now an almost ubiquitous function, yet as many scholastic works prove, left side brain associated with reading, and right side brain in watching are two separate brain functions.

In my own simple tests, I have students read a book then attempt to play ping pong at the same time, otherwise a more severe act with sometimes tragic consequences is texting and driving at the same time. It's not advisable.

Until we evolve more efficient brains or find ways of making lectures more socially engaged, (I now build social media breaks into lectures which appear far more important than tea-break) the lecture hall becomes the anti-social classroom.

2. Dear Ms Elizabeth Landy.

Oh no, the social media generation opt for the more "Hey Lizzy ". A blurring of social space and real space means increasingly its difficult to separate who's your friend and the people with which you ought to be building a professional relationship.

We're only a click away from addressing our next potential employer, Jonathan Barnes OBE, for that banking job, with "Hey Jonny". Either we get socially etiquetted up or a new range of finishing schools will emerge to help us understand that there are your friends and professional friends.

3. Likes You.

Liking and disliking someone and their exchanges has moved from the water cooler into a social space, where authors, particularly budding journalists struggle to understand that the whole point of journalism is to "be on the record" .

"Oh no if I reveal myself, I'll get lower grades", I overheard this once. What you're not prepared to say in person, refrain from saying on public space. We're actually getting much better at this is my perception.

Partly because, whilst an out of place comment is one thing, tipping your hand too far is likely to incur the law of defamation (if you can afford it), a potential beating (which I would not advise) or an exchange which may hurt you when you realise the person you've taken on has bigger google juice guns than you.  Overheard, a student photographer asking her lecturer to take down his comments about his brilliant writing as it occupied the top ranking of her name, and the photographer wanted to be known for his photographic work.

Quick win solution:  encourage trainee journalists to learn to say what they feel without always hiding for the wrong reasons around anonymity.  You're going into a profession where you get paid for critiquing with your byline attached.

4. Eyes on your forehead.

In 2056 human beings will have their eyes situated on the crown of their heads. If that doesn't happen, the number of fatalities walking the road in a straight line into traffic, whilst texting, will continue. It's more dangerous than you think says Laptopmag blog. In the US, according to the Guardian newspaper, fines will be issued to those walking as if they needed a tan on their necks. The walking talking texters have created their own social rule so that they have right to way on crowded streets. But what happens when we're all double bent walking along a-texting?

5. Damn politics.

3,000,000 online petitions versus 3,000,000 people lining the streets. Which one appears more potent? No one's saying online campaigning doesn't work, but its been said on more occasions than I care to remember that the lot who campaigned against Thatcher's poll tax were more political active on the hustings compared to today's youth. Is this all myth?  Will it be social media that makes politics cool to the point we hit the streets again? Would the poll tax have been abandoned solely if people adopted an online strategy, not withstanding the occasional Flash mobs?

6. The Coward Boss.

Not up to breaking the news, as it should be, on something as dramatic as a loss of job, or ending a relationship, a generation of social mediasts might argue what the fuss is about.
As a media exercise I pose a question to delegates that challenges when and where they would report casualties in a combat army. Some are quick to express how Facebook would be ideal. Then there are those that acknowledge that the ideal situation would be to firstly contact by phone or face-to-face someone from the injured person's family. Social Media scholars may need to provide the blue book on what is socially acceptable to say and what requires the human touch.

7. Its not on google, it never happened.

Yep, it's that simple, social media's omnipotence means a generation believe if its not on google, it never happened and if it's not on the front page, it's not important. Mediastorm are arguably one of the best global cinema journalism storytellers, but you won't find them on page one of "cinema journalism", though I'm certain that will change.

This reliance on the world's leading internet service provide led one scholar Professor Tara Barabazon to ban her students from using google and wikipedia. My own reasons for cautioning the exclusive use of google is the loss of flaneurism - the art of physical wandering and serendipity finding new contained knowledge from journals and books.

But actually a more pressing reason also exists. Dr Alison Williams, a colleague of mine, has just completed her doctorate and part of her study showed how physical spaces assist in creativity: going for a walk, a shower, riding in a bus. So walking to a place where knowledge is, the library, may provide additional, hidden reasons for creativity.

Undoubtedly, google and Wiki (Wiki leaks) have proved their importance, and google continues to digitise the world's brains, but knowledge from social media does not yet trounce all the other media entities. Confidential agreements, and research knowledge still restricts information.

8.  Think before you reflect.

Social media has made us more prone to speak without sometimes reflecting on what we're saying. Cognitive awareness is being substituted for immediate emotional gratification and sometimes playing to the gallery, making us perhaps more socially impoverished. Paris Brown, 17, one of the youngest youth police commissioners in the UK, found this out to her embarrassing costs when she tweeted .... "or I am an anti social, racist, sexist, embarrassing XXXX. Often its the latter." Here are examples of Tweets gone wrong from ReadWrite Social.

9. Lonely girl, lonely boy.

Paradoxically, and not unsurprisingly we're social beings who like physical company. And while social meet ups via social media may increase our social network, nothing beats physical space. That feeling of finding friends online, combined with other factors, can lead to the most un forseen consequences e.g. grooming.

Dating, or trying too in the social space has led to a new word, Catfish, and the series from MTV featuring couples meeting up for the first time and realising all is not well.

10. The secrecy syndrome

Social media makes us increasingly unable to hold secrets, but also inadvertently creates the perception of one upmanship. Paraodixically, the hiearchies we so complained about in journalism, have been replaced with a new breed, endoresed by their social media status.

The more folowers you have, the more important you are. Except that we know that's not the case, but online that's the perception and has led to the practice of tweet-trawls ( I have made this up) where we discover how Tory Minister Grant Shapps in boosted his twitter followings,  first broken by Channel 4 News.

Bowie's comeback album was not only a triumph in music, but in presenting a majestic surprise to his fans. It didn't make social media. Neither did an important assignment endorsed by President Obama who had to act as if nothing unusual was taking place at a correspondents' dinner when Navy Seals were prepping for that mission.

The argument isn't whether we need to keep information secret. That debate still rages in the wiki-saga, but that in dealings where we would prefer personal information was not divulged it stays secret.

I often say to students I can give you the on the record of what's going on in  journalism and the off the record, which comes from private conversations and since those conversations  can be damning, I'd prefer they were not discussed, but you decide on the arrangement you want. Chatham House rules or no rules.