Open Thinkering


Social media, backlash and the nature of reality.

I Am Uneasy

There is no such thing as reality. There are stories that we tell one another, narratives that gain more or less traction and memetic phrases which help organise our experiences. As soon as such stories become less useful in the way of belief we can (and should) jettison them for ones that work better and that help us make sense of such experiences. That’s the Pragmatic philosophy to which I subscribe.

During times of fiscal instability and uncertainty societies naturally gravitate towards conservatism. This is evident both in the financial conservatism of public sector cuts but also in social conservatism – right down to retro designs in advertising. The 24-hour news industry feeds and catalyses this.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is, as Martin Weller puts it, the beginnings of a ‘backlash’ against newer (and particularly social) technologies:

The signs are that this year will be one marked by something of a backlash against social media/ web 2.0/ any internet stuff. I don’t mean from the traditional media, who’ve always been suspicious, but from people who know what they’re talking about and have been advocates. In other words, increasingly ‘us lot’ will be declaring that this stuff is peripheral, uncool, over- rated, etc.

I’d go further than this. There are always those (who call themselves) ‘thought-leaders’ who aim to be disruptive or, at least, contrarian who are always looking for something that will get them attention. All it takes is for someone to say that they were wrong about technology xyz for a feeding-frenzy of “I told you so” to take place. One competing story amongst many starts to appear ‘legitimate’.

It would seem incomprehensible to my 16 year-old self that I have absolutely no idea who is currently Number 1 in the singles chart. Last Saturday was the first time this season that I’ve watched the football programme ‘Match of the Day’. When it comes down to it all, reality is the coherence-through-storytelling that we paint as a veneer upon shared experience. To my mind, social media is one of the best ways I know to engage in such narratives.

I shall not be participating in the backlash.

Image CC BY-NC-SA daveknapik

4 thoughts on “Social media, backlash and the nature of reality.

  1. I think you have touched upon an important factor in that social networks are part of the “narrative”. In fact they are re-engaging many people with certain types of narrative that I feel had become far less coherent post WWII up to the dawn of the social networks.

    Forged narratives between groups of people, such as political movements, have been opened up to wider communities; relationships have been formed, changing people’s life narratives; and for me personally Twitter has changed my career narrative.

    Social networks are here to stay. What I do hope does happen this year is social network users becoming more discerning when it comes to who they connect with and what information they share online. This I feel will refine the narrative and give back a sense of control to the characters within it. Rather than what seems to be happening at the moment with the narrative running away from them due to a ill-conceived tweet being retweeted across the internets or a photo (you wish didn’t exist) being shared amongst their peers.

    In fact I think that social networks will continue to thrive but they will grow, adapt and refine themselves to suit changes in society as much as they will impact on society themselves. In my opinion the true power of social networks has not been fully realised. Twitter is often credited with having the power to spur on a movement and Facebook is credited with helping Prime Ministers/Presidents win elections. But I think there is the potential tied up within social networks to cause a far longer lasting change. What that change is or looks like exactly I don’t know but in terms of history, society, technology, social networks are very much in their infancy.

    Martine Weller, has got it wrong. For many of “us” social networking isn’t “cool” already; it’s a tool that allows us to work; to connect. This is perspective. More and more people will come to understand this but I don’t see them rejecting the technology, I just see them leveraging it to their advantage.

    1. Hi James and Doug,
      I didn’t mean to suggest people only used it was cool. I agree completely people use itveffectively for work (in fact I’ve just finished writing a book on this). My point was that people who were previous proponents often be cone vocal critics. Lanier and Turkle are two high profile examples, but we see it more everyday. James Clay makes a good point in the comments on my blog, pointing out that people often quit Twitter ‘noisily’. I think we’ll see more of this, but I was proposing we need to be more balanced. This means both not overhyping tech but also not ranting against it, and instead seeing how it subtly and effectively changes practice.

      1. I think that the noise makers (referred to by James Clay) are not representative of the masses though. For example when Stephen Fry announced, with some fanfare, he was quitting Twitter (before he quickly rejoined it) it did not cause a mass-Twitter-exodus. In fact it only served to increase the publics’ awareness of Twitter as a social media tool. And in fact I think that most people’s engagement with social media as a whole is far more balanced than the mainstream media would have us believe.

        I want to go back to my third paragraph from my original comment. “What I hope does happen this year is social network users becoming more discerning when it comes to who they connect with and what information they share online.” I want to extend this to build on what Martin says about “seeing how it subtly and effectively changes practice”. I think that these two ideas are tied together in that the more educated the public are about both the benefits and drawbacks of using social networks, the more subtle, and yet ironically, the more powerful social networks will become to the average user. As with any tool, more fully it is understood, the more it can be leveraged to suit the needs of the individual.

        The problem with Lanier and Turkle (and other such academics) is that they study/comment on this technology as though it were a book, past civilisation or other artifact to be dissected and analysed. Social networks are living, breathing entities made up of user interactions that weave a narrative all of their own. Martin is right to say that we should not overhype them nor should we rant against them but I think it is important for us all (technophile, academic, mum of three, student) to understand the opportunities that a social network can offer and to also remain critical of them.

        This is the balance that I believe is needed. And with a more balanced approach to social media, I believe the subtle and effective changes will be far clearer for us to understand.

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