social media and attention

I find it frustrating that we are in the midst of the learning cycle for social media. Sure, it’s “interesting” and “exciting”, but mostly it is wading through treacle until we develop efficient systems. (And of course it could be looked back on as the amazing heyday before some corporate entrenchment of the internet takes place. Maybe I should shut the fuck up already. But onward we plow.)

With technology, I can largely ignore things. I don’t need to own the latest toy or gizmo. and in five years, something far better will be a quarter of the price. I can wait out the curve. I can adapt in small principled ways – I run Ubuntu not Windows – but my hardware decisions are cost and function based. My needs in both domains tend to the minimal. (My laptop can’t run Dragon Age. This both good and bad.)

But with social media, since it is entangled with lived experience – social reality – it is harder to disentangle from the adaptation process.

I have blogged for years. Guilty. But I perceive the value in the medium.

I am on Twitter. After a brief enamoration, I have all but stopped using it. Too much information. It is amazing as a feed – an aggregator of what interesting minds are attending to.  As a means to filter information it is useful. I currently check my /mutants list once a week or so, and generally skim the /nz list daily. And socially it is another channel of conversation. I think as conversations they make way more sense to people working in offices simultaneously with their networks – an outlet for distraction, venting and support. They are adaptive technlogies for that context, but outside it I wonder. They require different hacks to be useful.

I joined Facebook a month or so ago, when hell froze over.

What the hell is the fuss? Other than the fact that it cuts across most of my social groups, its functionality is pretty shit. What the hell is it for? What is its usability focus? What is the point of collating two hundred streams of noise into one channel? I am sure there is some value to having a communications line with lots of people I know. Facebook doesn’t seem to be providing that value. (And more people play Farmville on Facebook than are on Twitter.)

Interestingly, other cultures use different social media.

Particularly interesting is that the emerging powerhouse BRIC (Brazil Russia India China) which accounts for most of the world’s population are using other systems. Does anyone want to experiment with those other platforms and see what they are like, what functionality they offer? It seems like the point is to have people to interact with…

Anyway. It seems obvious that we will collectively work out what it is we want from our social media, and then it will be provided in an integrated fashion, hopefully without overtones of Orwellian or corporate evil. I just wish we could fast-forward to that point, without the weird economic battles, and the years of time wasted.


How do these come together to be meaningful and useful in our lives? Take the Save Radio NZ campaign. 15000 members. 200 people at the protest. Now, the plus: I only knew about it because people I know on Facebook joined the group and I became aware of the situation. But to what extent is joining a Facebook group a meaningless action – information without action is a bit redundant. And we are left with the need to bridge the gap between awareness and action. (We know we should eat right and exercise as we sit on the couch eating pizza.) So I wonder is it possible that this sort of minimal social action gives the appearance of being involved and doing something, without actually achieving anything? Now, again, once you have all the people connected this is potentially powerful. The question is how to actualise that potential? Something seems missing in our social media.

7 Responses to “social media and attention”

  1.   Steve
    February 25th, 2010 | 8:13 pm

    I was wondering what the turnout would be at the RNZ picnic, too. This post by Seth Godin asks that question, and then goes into a valuable riff about the infectiousness of ideas:

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  2.   Rimu
    February 25th, 2010 | 9:11 pm

    Yes, I struggle with trying to ‘ground’ social media in reality also.

    While it may not be particularly effective in getting people out onto the streets, I think it has potential to mobilise online action – sending submissions for resource consents, bombarding politicians with email and so on.

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  3.   amy bannock
    February 25th, 2010 | 11:40 pm

    hi billy! i miss you! i guess its the same reason why i havent seen you in ages. eye. firstly i should say that i am drunk. yes! yar! I guess most of the time when i feel angry about stuff and i blogg things that i feel are! challenging to people, i delete it because im scared how that will effect my family and friends, people that i care about… i can be a reactive person and it is personal, but i will always share what i like, to my family even if they dont like it…. they want to choose there lives for themselves. i guess i need to become more assertive also about expressing and talking about things, its hard.. every single person is challenging.
    i think we should at least be informed about how we effect everything in this world, and i agree, it can be irritating!
    i always hope that maybe people will think about life and that it is miraculous that we are here and that it is a mystery… beans like to keep there seeds, but other plants shed them after they have set in there roots.
    I always hope that other people will think it is a good idea too!
    Its hard to say what we should all be doing when there is so much to be done working inside and outside of this system, and i think that both are incredibly important, and outside is definitely more progressive socially,
    its hard that we live in such a beautiful place but create such ugly things. that just dont quite cut it, we miss the beat, but the point is that people actually give a shit about the humanity and life and that our actions eventually with hope speak louder than our words in whichever means we can be useful. i dont want to offend any people that have something good to say, its hard when you get abuse from people you know but they are connected to you in such an integral way. so to say that everything has its balance and that not every thing matches another.
    and were a fucked up humanity….And mostly except for the occasional irritating online blocking which only exist of three which shall not be named, i like existing and sharing my ideals but i dont necessarily have yet the means to deal with social change because everything is awesome but increasingly easier to deal with day to day.. i love you! learning face to face with humanity. ow! and awesome! i love your thorts 🙂 its cool! and i check your block regularly 🙂 and it is totally true and i respect everything you stand for.

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  4.   tatjna
    February 26th, 2010 | 12:39 am

    Sonething really weird happened to Africa on that map – like, those people don’t use the internet so they don’t exist?

    My laptop won’t play Dragon Age either.

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  5.   Vince
    February 26th, 2010 | 9:36 am

    I don’t quite *get* FB either, the newsfeed often consists of people joining some group or becoming a fan of whatever but there’s not a lot in the way of actual communication.

    But then again, most people are totally crap at communication anyway, so perhaps what I am seeing is average level human interaction.

    The “conversation” on FB does not give me any deeper insights into the human condition than walking down the street in Upper Hutt. I’m getting rather bored with it.

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  6.   billy
    February 26th, 2010 | 1:19 pm

    Response roundup:

    Steve: but what makes the idea good enough to spread (other than that it spreads?)? and once it spreads, how does it lead to action, be that purchasing or social action?

    Rimu: yeah, it can do some things well, but has there yet been an instance of massive social change occurring via online action? or ultimately other than by thousands and thousands of people in the streets?

    tats: africa is still the Dark Continent. the offline darkness.

    amy: go go drunken comments

    vince: FB desperately needs some good filtering functionality

    Oh, and any lag in comments appearing is due to me having to manually lift everything out of the spam filter still…

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  7.   Steve
    February 26th, 2010 | 5:26 pm

    Billy: exactly! What makes the idea good enough to spread? That’s the question that’s occupying a fair bit of my attention at the moment.

    I have no answers – just speculations. Aside from my upcoming blog posts on this, I think you’ve got to come up with a lot of ideas, test your ideas out, see if the way you’ve communicated them makes other people want to tell others, and then focus your energy on marketing the ones that spread the most.

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