Here's something which, despite all the current doom and gloom, makes me both hopeful for the future of the world at large and despondent about my own industry (and if you'd rather focus on the former, feel free to jump past my chronology of frustration:-) )
A chronology of frustration: Mainstream media discovers Twitter and moves en masse there. Incidentally, politicians discover Twitter about the same time and follow suite. "All of a sudden" everyone that is someone is talking about Twitter, hence media commentators are ordered to write about it and conclude - surprise, surprise - it's the social network of the elites.
Now, this secenario is taken from Norway, where journalists and politicians have really only discovered Twitter's potential over the last few months. Since I do my share of talking about why journalists should be on Twitter, and how they can use it in their work, I'm hardly going to complain that a much larger contingent of Norway's hacks have finally started using the microblogging site, but the scenario in the above paragraph is a potent reminder that our understanding of social media is defined by how we use it.
It's not the technology... As a result, our arguments about what social media is often become circular, and categorisations such as "it's the network of the elites" or "it's just people sharing trivia" will often reveal more about how people making those statements use or don't use Twitter than about the site itself. I am, of course, fully aware that sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have different demographics, but, at the end of the day, it's neither the technology, nor the individual social media brand as such I find interesting: it's what it enables us to do.
And since commentators, in Norway and elsewhere, have been so busy analysing what they and/or their colleagues talk about on Twitter lately, let's instead look at a compelling way to use the site to raise awareness of a social issue. I've been followingMark Horvath for a few weeks now, after a shout out from Tim O'Reilly alerted me to his Twitter profile:
Giving a voice to the voiceless
"Mark Horvath was a top TV executive in Hollywood and then lost it all. Out of work and with a home going into foreclosure, Horvath quickly became homeless. With no income or a roof over his head, Horvath still had to do something. So he started Invisiblepeople.tv, a personal first account video blog designed to give homelessness a face and voice," Mashable wrote in March.
Or to use his own words from 1 April this year: "Fifteen years ago I was a TV executive. Fourteen years ago I ended up homeless on Hollywood Blvd. I now am 14 years sober and am rebuilding my life but homelessness is once again a very real possibility. I lost my job in St Louis over a year ago. I took a job here in Los Angeles, moved here, and was laid off. I lost my house to foreclosure last week. With $45, a small camera and a laptop I started Invisiblepeople.tv, a homeless awareness vlog. I had to do something.
"Every week I take a few minutes to get to know a different person without a home. I learn how they survive, how they came to find themselves homeless, and who they call friends. I ask them about their biggest wishes, their greatest hardships and their plans for the future.
"Then, I introduce them to the world via social media. My video blog is a testament of the character and strength of people living on America’s streets. It gives them a voice and a chance to tell their story and become more than a coat sleeping on a park bench. To get the word out about my vblog, I began using twitter ..." (full post here, follow Horvath at @hardlynormal ).
Now, you may fault me, of course, for citing a former TV exec as an example, but his forceful example of being 'the change he wants to see in the world' somehow gives me more faith that we will find our way through the current crisis - and doing what he does while facing homelessness and personal ruin is truly something...
Here's video clip from The Berkman Centre, about The New Change Makers which is also well-worth checking out (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter)