Is the rise of social media threatening the fabric of society, as Andrew Keen argues, or does it represent a positive challenge to established interests, as argued by e.g. James Surowieki?
This was the topic for last Thursday's Social Media Club London, but, after Richard Stacey's eminent intro, the discussion quickly diverted into a number of other strands.
Since I'm both firmly rooted in mainstream media (MSM), and at loss as to why Keen's flawed reasoning gets so much traction, I ended up in the 'democratisation group' – or the 'how social media will revolutionise/subvert existing media' group, as Adam called it.
This group was headed by a guy who, at a very early stage, pitted social media against MSM: he claimed all MSM subscribed to the same overarching agenda and wilfully ignored the truth. As Adam, I have clearly missed that agenda memo: I have yet to me a journalist who sets out to be deliberately biased, though I have met several who seem unable to divide values from facts. That, however, is a different debate.
My curiosity was aroused by this blanket statement, but I soon found that this guy's primary interest was talking about how his boss, inspired by the Cluetrain Manifesto, had gone about revolutionising the company's internal communications.
Now, all kudos to his boss for that, but it's important to remember that those company walls the Cluetrain guys berated don't only shut people out; they also shut people in. Behind them, we're all individuals, and, despite all the stuff they teach us in journalism school (journos don't have friends, we have contact books, if you want a friend: get a dog etc), most of us are human.
That's why, as I've touched on before, but keep running out of time to elaborate on, journalists as well, whether we approve of it or not, are trapped in those Catholic churches; confined by the professional environments we operate in.
Overall, I was struck by how the majority of people I heard talk, or talked to, that evening had their own agendas; how all had something to sell or market, sometimes at the expense of genuine conversation. Or maybe it was that you get so isolated as a social media geek in day-to-day worklife that when you are in an actual crowd of people who share your fascination for this area, you can't help but to vent your frustrations, and your passion for the application(s) you're working with.
In either case, it was a fascinating evening, and I don't mean that in a British way: it was great to be meet both bloggers I read, and bloggers that were new to me; whatever additional listening skills I've acquired as a blogger came in handy; I gained a better understanding of many of the things people struggle with when utilising blogs in their day-to-day work – and, last but not least, I was mightily impressed by how Lloyd moderated the evening's discussion(s).
As a sidenote: Cluetrain was pushed into my hands in 2000 or 2001, but, perhaps because media is a pretty informal environment to work in, and you're often too busy chasing deadlines to do much 'deep' thinking, the power of the book didn't really dawn on me until I worked for the British Civil Service.
Okay, I give up: I dropped by last Thursday's Social Media Club London and have been meaning to write about it ever since, but I've been working hard to unwind, catch up with half my life and get going on a few MSM stories calling out for me to write them. Sounds like incompatible goals? They are. In other words: time to sit down and gather my thoughts about the event, which I'm very glad I made the effort to attend, keeps slipping from me. So watch this space ... I will add my two pennies on what I took away from it eventually. In the meantime, check out Adam Tinworth and Alan Patrick's round-ups.