Social Media: Something Different IS Happening…

by Marianne Richmond on February 18, 2007

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution….You better free your mind instead.

John Lennon

While the discussion about the definition of social media swirled in one corner of the blogosphere, I followed a blog thread today that defined the impact in the academic world. It started for me on an email newsletter from Stephen Downes. he was discussing a blog post from Vicki Davis at The Cool Cat Teacher Blog about how businesses could use Skype to set up a virtual volunteer teacher program in schools around the world,,,and how this would be especially meaningful as outreach to impoverished areas.

"Every person is a teacher" and the fact that with the technology available today knowledge can be transmitted anywhere. This contrasts so sharply with the other vision…that of Ted Stevens and Senate Bill 49, and the idea that restricting access to the internet will protect school children.

So, Downes also had a link to this post at Web-log ed which mentioned a comment by Downes: "The big news in this story isn’t blogs. It’s that there are a billion teachers out there. Today we use blogs to communicate with them. But how might this evolve in the future? How do we make it easier, more immediate?" Will Richardson added," It really isn’t about blogs as much any more, is it? It’s not about the tool. It’s about the ability to connect." Yes, the ability to connect has now become limitless and education and the transmission and acquisition of knowledge has become limitless.

This is an important shift…those of us in social media often speak of the shift in marketing and media models based upon technology. This same technology is revolutionalizing education, politics, and our lives; and the same politicians are supporting DOPA, Senate Bill 49, and voting against a free internet. These legislative attempt to assert control are perhaps an indication that there is a revolution. Farenheit 451?

Will Richardson, in another post writes about the questions being discussed about the interaction of education and technology and and quotes Mark Federman, a researcher in media and culture who takes a historical look at authority and how society determines the value of knowledge. And it is this evolution that I think puts social media in perspective.

 Federman traces the history of literacy from the oral tradition to the alphabet to Gutenberg and forward and writes that it takes 300 years for a cultural shift to occur, that is "that is for the society to change its conception of what is valued as knowledge, who decides what is valued as knowledge, who controls access to the knowledge itself, and who controls access to those controls." He says that we are about half-way through the 300 years and that it is at that point that the most disruption occurs. In the days that he calls the "traditional literate structure of the academy" the indexers controlled the portals of knowledge; the few controlled access to the many. They were highly trusted and processed power and authority over the value placed upon a collection and thereby access to it.

 The system was a closed one. We are currently in a shift to a more open system where the "wisdom of crowds" determines value via algorithms.

 Just Google social media. The first definition is Wikipedia. Robert Scoble may ask the question, "What is social media?" and Stowe Boyd may answer. And among many, their definitions carry a lot of weight; but if you don’t know Robert Scoble or Stowe Boyd and you just want to know what social media is, Wikipedia, which didn’t exist until 2001 is the source of the answer if you search on Google. Digg it? Let’s not go there now.

Of course if you do read Robert Scoble and Stowe Boyd you would know that Robert Scoble’s recent post was in response to Dare Obasanjo’s confusion with the Wikipedia definition. Scoble puts social media in historical context, old media and new media, and then ends with, "I don’t really care what you call this “new media” but you’ve got to admit that something different is happening here than happens on other media above."

Stowe Boyd, who elucidates between Social Media and the social media tools (e.g. blogging, wikis), speaks of the "societal phenomenon of Social Media" and of the impact on society as more and more people connect on the web.As this occurs, he says " that the principles of openness, transparency, diversity, and egalitarianism that engender web culture" will simply change the world.

Federman calls this "ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity." He says, " Everyone is, or soon will be, connected to everyone else, and all available information, through instantaneous, multi-way communication. This is ubiquitous connectivity. They will therefore have the experience of being immediately proximate to everyone else and to all available information. This is pervasive proximity…It is a world of entangled, complex processes, not content. It is a world in which the greatest skill is that of making sense and discovering emergent meaning among contexts that are continually in flux. It is a world in which truth, and therefore authority, is never static, never absolute, and not always true. This is the Cluetrain. This is authority by Technorati and Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality.

Over at If:Book, Ben Vershbow is also looking at the history of literacy and the cultural shift of the emergence of the digital age. His question is, has blogging restructured our consciousness?

 In other words, has technology, the driver of the shift from a closed system of knowledge to an open one, also restructured our consciousness. Well, I think I would have to say that it would only make sense for this to be true considering evolutionary theory and consciousness, Demasio and some Dan Pink. And really, how can such a profound shift in connectedness, time, place and people not influence our consciousness?

 He quotes Chris Bowers of MyDD whose perspective is political blogging not academia, who writes, " After two and a half years of virtually non-stop blogging, my perception of myself as a distinct individual has dramatically waned. My interior monologue has virtually disappeared. I no longer have aesthetic-based epiphanies, and I almost never concern myself with examining internal passions or emotions anymore. Blogging has not just changed the activities in which I engage–the activities in which I engage in order to be a successful blogger have profoundly altered the way my mind operates and the way I conceptualize my agency in relation to others. In effect, I do not exist in the same way I once existed."

 I have noted something similar, though I have defined it less elaborately; after you blog for a while, you start to think in blog. But it is a lot more…our world, the social media world, is one of "ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity."

I think when Stowe Boyd provides the formula," Social Media = what the edglings use to communicate." He says that social media is a way for "the people formerly known as the audience" to organize "ourselves to understand the world" by connecting with each other and having conversations amongst ourselves, that he is describing the macro of Bower’s micro; the place when an individual paradigm becomes a cultural paradigm shift.

Henry Jenkins in a post titled from YouTube to YouNiversity makes several points:

  • There have been a number of books written by authors from diverse disciplines that taken all together "can be read as a paradigm shift in our understanding of media, culture and society…and a new way of thinking about how power operates within an informational economy, describing how media shifts are changing education, politics, religion, business, and the press."
  • The books all share the belief in a networked culture with bottom-up-power consisting of diverse groups of people not necessarily in physical proximity but belonging to social networks that can be temporary and cause related. Cory Doctorow calls this adhocracy. This Jenkins says is the opposite of the contemporary university whose borders and obstacles inhibit collaboration He suggests a YouTube model, calling it YouNeversity.
  • He suggests that Universities don’t need a faculty as much as an intellectual network. This is analogous to the concept of "every person is a teacher."
  • Schools should reflect the participatory nature of a our culture where people are content users but also content producers….he says that "many of these teens learned how media work by taking their culture apart and remixing it.
  • He advocates strongly for the use of blogs in education. Blogs are a tool to engage in public discussions. Many students are using blogs as part of their thesis and he believes that this has added depth to research.
  • Jenkins writes, "The modern university should work not by defining fields of study but by removing obstacles so that knowledge can circulate and be reconfigured in new ways. For media studies, that means taking down walls that separate the study of different media, that block off full collaboration between students, that make it difficult to combine theory and practice, and that isolate academic research from the larger public conversations about media change.

One of the interesting aspects of his writing about the need for change in university education is that if you replaced the word "university" with "corporation" or put this side by side with Forrester’s Peter Kim’s work on Reinventing the Marketing Organization you would see striking conceptual similarities.

This post by another edu-blogger illustrates what blogs and internet access have added to the education of his middle school students:

"About a month ago, two of my students reported on research by a geneticist involved with sleep and memory, and posted their reports to the my class blog. In their reports, the students raised some questions about the research. Yesterday, that researcher responded to the students questions in the blog itself. This is incredibly exciting!So far, in less than 8 weeks, we have interacted with a graduate student from Ohio who was doing research in the instructional use of blogs. My students participated in a survey, which formed a key part of a paper she has prepared.Earlier this week, we heard from an author of an article from National Geographic, who was impressed with a student’s critique of his work. And now this.Frankly, I expected to see the benefits of blogging in terms of students connecting with one another. But I never expected to have them connect with the world at large so quickly."

As Chris Saad wrote regarding the Media 2.0 Workgroup, the "phenomena of democratic participation will change the face of media creation, distribution and consumption" and really just about everything. Join the conversation!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kenan Branam August 28, 2007 at 6:42 am

Thank you for connecting so many “dots.” I will return to your page often to follow all the threads.

I googled “media consciousness” to find your post. I’m most interested in your reference to how media affects and transforms self consciousness. It gives me a resourceful clue to communicating with my community about the media. Thank you.

John September 12, 2007 at 8:31 am

Sounds like a lot of waffling. The word catharsis springs to mind.

“My interior monologue has virtually disappeared” .. yes, and having unburdened himself on the web I hope nobody else steps in it.

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