Saturday, 18 August 2007

Socialising Media

What's the point of it all?

I've been asked this time and again by a bunch of folk ranging from London planning honchos who don't have enough time to explore web 2.0 or friends who fired off a volley of concerned emails during a patch when I'd seemingly gone underground. I will however first off make a rough and ready psychographic division because not everybody is the same when I make this case.

A narrator or writer I came across (I'm struggling to remember where) asserted that there are roughly speaking two types of people plodding around the planet at present. Cold war survivors and the ones after, lets call them Post-Coldies. This has only a little to do with age as its a mindset that can easily be absorbed from say parents and different environments. Cold war people have been bombed by mainstream media (MSM) into believing that the world is divided into good and bad, and have trouble dealing with shades of grey or the texture and subtlety between. Go easy on them because its pretty close to a brain washing experience, but in principle a generation of Soviet 'evil empire' rhetoric, contrasted with Western neoliberal capitalist propaganda as saviour of the world leaves them with a sharply divided mindset that is wholly binary and extends to extraordinary statements like communism has failed and only capitalism works. Or "isn't it great the polar caps are melting, let's consume some more refrigerated ice cream".

Cold war survivors are a guarded bunch. MSM and their parents taught them to be that way. They manage their online identity with Stalinist control, feel uncomfortable with online pictures of themselves, default to using very spy-like online monikers, never use 'include message in reply' in their emails and compartmentalize their offline lives with a strict policy of not mixing say work friends, then family, and life friends. They also tend to tell default fibs if different groups happen to enquire about each other, but they are not being malicious.

I guess they're just trying to shore up their separate offline identities that they manage in this increasingly complex and connected world. This was necessary to hold the whole cold war mentality together. People who aren't paranoid or under fear of invasion make for lousy misguided patriots so it's in the interests of the State to make sure a climate of them and us prevails. It's not completely impossible to envisage the current attempt to exchange reds-under-the bed, with the now ubiquitous terrorists of today. But that's probably another post about propaganda's resemblance to heaps of contemporary advertising that I'm saving for later.

Anyway, the point of all this social(ist) media immersion is, in my view, to drive all that online activity offline. The most rewarding experience of virtual friendships is to meet those same people in real life. I started to be convinced of this through hooking up with big chunks of the London plannersphere. But take the argument even further, and the MMORPG or video gaming community is a good example. Its not hard to see that the apex of their digital community experiences are the championships and tournaments they hold in conventions centres from Seoul to South Dakota.

Another good potential example of this might be for Last.FM to create Last.FM bars. These would be bars where the community can have a say over the music, ranging from discovery mode, to play-me-the-classics-I-love. This used to be called a Juke Box but it was quite limited.

I can think of lots more examples.

So all that anthropological primate grooming with pokes, vampire bites, blogging and twitters pretty much self actualises when we get to have something like a cup of coffee or a beer with people of a likemind. Simple isn't it?

I got thinking about this again earlier because I see that PicnicMob are trying to get a large group of people together in one city and have an online picnic. By working out what your interests are they will seat you next to someone similar. Personally I quite like meeting people who are into stuff I haven't come across but I'm sure you see my point. The irony is that the Post Coldies are pretty much trying to create, with all this social(ist) media, what the Coldies have already being doing all their lives; albeit with global reach, greater transparency, less small talk and networking at the speed of light.

Its not for everyone but I am reminded that Marshall McLuhan predicted that
electronic technologies would lead us back to an oral culture.


  1. Great post.

    Yes, McLuhan was concerned that the old literary culture of fragmentation and specialisation would be replaced by an older oral tradition, a retribalisation, where integral sense experiences: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and being - all together, unmediated and in real-time, would become our preferred way of navigating the world.

    Some would see this as retrograde, but this is forgetting that the new tribalisation is vastly improved by access to networking technologies that constantly expose the tribe to new influences and members, rather than being completely independent to each other as was previously the case before the advent of technologies of trade and travel such as road, steam, aviation, coin, etc.

    This is what he meant by the Global Village. It was node rich and rhizomatic, always shifting and reforming, a web, a metaverse. Something quite inevitable.

    Now we call it something vaguely economic like Glocalisation, a mere conduit by which capital may exceed its grasp. But it is something more. Perhaps wealth?

    Nice diagram :^)

    I'd feel free to visit them all and that I'd be welcome. This is the new world. Interest aggregated and open to all. Now we've just got to figure out how to power it all in a sustainable way!

  2. And thank you for a wonderfully rich reply Adam. I'll be digging into this a bit more now as I may have misunderstood McLuhan who also, also had a nihilist conclusion for technological progression.

    Technological progression is almost defined and benchmarked as being faster than nature and that we would invent ourselves into oblivion. Which is possibly where our contemporary climate change fears have begun to stir. Maybe the challenge of technology is to make things slower. Ageing for instance!

    My interpretation was that he felt the oral tradition would be the apex of the 'distributed village' experience (so much better than glocalisation don't you think?).

    I couldn't agree more. I totally embrace these unbelievable times for the opportunities they present and which you outline wholeheartedly but there's no better media than real life for richness. This includes the all the visual clues that the oral culture is founded around.

    And on that note we must grab a cup pa sometime and babble about this. I'll be twittering chirpy and loud as the opportunity arises around Soho.

  3. Hey Charles,

    What an amazing rant. I loved the "never use 'include message in reply' in their emails". I think I know a lot of CWS's!

    Last.FM bars. Great concept. Maybe the DJ would only be able to play songs in the top 10 scrobble lists of all the registered people in the club... ;)

    Awesome that you take a questionable belief (all people falling into two camps) to find such an interesting position/hypothesis. So, we have online participation driving offline behavior. But what of those who aren't comfortable with participating online? Would it not be interesting (ironic?) if it turns out they never partake of the offline connection opportunities, thus supporting their starting beliefs?

  4. Im reminded of the Billy Joel song Leningrad.

    "Cold war kids were hard to kill
    under their desk in an air raid drill
    havent they heard we won the war
    what do they keep on fighting for"

    "we never knew what friends we had, til we came to Leningrad"

  5. Thanks for all your comments Rob. I love the Billy Joel song lyrics. How appropriate to this post. I'm hoping we get to use that fine mind you have in this business. And the sooner the better.

  6. So am I Charles... so am I :)

    Its actually a really sweet song, about how he grew up thinking of the Soviet Union as evil enemies but then he visited it and realised how they were just the same as 'us'.

    Not sure if its a true story or not, but its a great song.

  7. Hey Sean sorry about the delay in replying. In short I'm just trying to draw a parallel with the people who find social media pointless and the ones who don't use 'include original' in their emails. They are also people who think that not replying to emails is the same as never having received one in the first place.

    I guess the main thrust of the post is that offline activity driven by online connection is highly valuable. That's the point of social media. A bit like pen friends from years back. They only moved up a notch when people finally met all those years later. Social media has a lot to learn from the past :)

  8. hey! great post! and in reading it, i realised that i had a little bit of the cold-war kind of thing in me, like the lack of true self-disclosure online, whilst still being very much a web 2.0 kinda gal - with 2007 been very much about meeting almost all of my blogbuddies/twitmates. i wonder what 2008 will bring!

  9. Hey Lauren. 2007 isn't over yet and its been one hell of an interesting year. See you tomorrow night I hope at TDC drinks.

  10. Hey Lauren. 2007 isn't over yet and its been one hell of an interesting year. See you tomorrow night I hope at TDC drinks.

  11. Hey Lauren. 2007 isn't over yet and its been one hell of an interesting year. See you tomorrow night I hope at TDC drinks.