Social media is changing the way we communicate, the way we think about the world, what we expect from it and ultimately the world itself.
Most people in the media business now realise that, to use an old cliché, the world as we know it is disappearing before our eyes. I think it's fair to assume the what (is changing), why (is it changing), where (general direction) and who (brought it about) is well understood, but the how is not so readily grasped.
Well, that one's easy you might say: we're increasingly reading news online, using blogs, vodcast, podcasts and what have you, which by the way MSM will have to incorporate better than today, and ten years down the line printed papers, as The Economist predicts, will, with few exceptions, be a thing of the past. That's how media is changing and that's how the future will look. Or not?
I think not. That's just listing what's apparent on the surface: I think the change runs much deeper that that. I'm reminded of Neil Postman restating a key teaching of Marshall Mcluhan's: "The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation." Now I think this is much too simplified a way to explain a culture, but it goes some way to explaining the way a culture structures its communication. Continuing in this tradition, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman wrote: "Every epistemology is the epistemology of a stage of media development." For those not familiar with his work, it's a book about how television-based epistemology pollutes public communication (and a book I keep coming back to).
To be more concrete, due to the event of social media, people have now come to expect conversation, openness, interaction. As Hans Kullin writes in his blog post "Listen to the people formerly known as the audience":
"A perfect example of not listening comes today from Martin Bagge. He found that it was possible to hack his local paper's website and sent an email alerting the staff about the problem. After 8 hours without reply he decided to blog the thing instead."
The conclusion is: You want to lock yourself behind your corporate walls, fine, I'll take my business elsewhere. You don't want to listen to me, hey, I'll just publish my complaint on my blog, on YouTube or somewhere else (as an example, read Jeff Jarvis' account of Whistelblower TV). In fact, why bother to spend all that time trying to get through to a journalist willing to listen, or an editor willing to commission me to write about it, when I can publish it myself in a few seconds on my chosen website in my chosen format?
Then imagine all those individual actions multiplied in the millions
How come I started thinking about this early a Saturday morning? Well, throughout the week my mind kept mulling over an excellent post by Adriana . Here's an excerpt, but do read the full post:
"History has much to recommend it as a guide to the present and the future. It's a record of evolutions, patterns and powershifts... I often compare blogs and social media to the printing press (I know, I know, everyone does these days but bear with me) and its evolution in roughly three stages....In the first stage, a blog (the machine or the format) was interesting as it optimised the distribution of writing on the internet...The second stage was the realisation that blogs are not merely 'online diaries' and that you can apply blogging to your own purposes...The third stage, the one I am really interested in, is the 'Reformation' and the 'Peasant revolt' i.e. the changes, social, political and individual, that emerge from the widespread application of the technology or tools...."