What Is It About Social Media?
Social Media. Seems everyone is talking about it but rarely do they focus on its human side. It’s usually marketplace metrics, demographic profiles and “business ecosystems.” Our new parlance allows us to strip the humanity right out of social media. But humanity is exactly what you see in social media: the best and the worst of us.
The explosive growth and popularity of social media is not because of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, Androids or any of the rest. It’s also not because of instantaneously updated GPS’d realtime communication tools. No, all of them are merely the vehicles and beneficiaries of an innate human trait that is the real fuel behind the popularity of social media.
Social media is returning to us — at least in part — something that has been missing from our culture for a few decades. We lost something of ourselves in the past half-century of our technical revolution.
Having grown up on a farm, you quickly learn how society is supposed to work: if your barn burns down, the neighbors pitch in and help rebuild it. No charge. Why? They know you will do the same for them, if needed. But when they tore the dairies out of Cypress where I grew up in southern California, it was emblematic of a loss much greater than that of cows, manure and flies.
When I was a boy, it was the Jongblood family, the Van Kamps, the Leal farm, the Fernandes dairy and others that I knew and saw all the time. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as our respective likes and dislikes. It was that way until I left the farm. From there, it changed quickly.
With today’s extreme distances and everchanging careers, there are times that years go by between seeing my immediate family members. Friendships have become even trickier in a time when families suddenly move across the world. We are not only mobile but as you’ve probably noticed, we keep going faster and faster.
Humans need social interaction and fitting in with a body of like-minded peers. We look for people like “us” and people who like what we like. It’s part of our genetic wiring. We like community, that sense of belonging somewhere.
What “missing thing” does social media reveal about ourselves in 2012? To me, the most obvious answer is the human drive to over-compensate in one area for something missing in another area.
For many, social media is almost an addiction, something so all consuming that some people are “jacked into the Matrix” 24 hours a day. Even in the hands of the non-addicted it’s more than a habit. It’s the way that we now communicate. Not only is it incredibly efficient but it can also be a lot of fun.
Tim Wilson reminded me the other day that the COW has been involved in social media for over 11 years now, long before there was even a name for it. We have watched people build friendships, grow businesses through cultivating electronic relationships, strengthen their knowledge and technique — along with a myriad of other things that stem from social interaction in the digital age.
Are digital friendships real? We think so and we have watched the proof across many years.
All the rules of communication are changing. We have created an interconnected world of near instantaneous remote communication supported by GPS, photos, videos, audio and attachment files — running on an inter-woven fabric of smartphones, desktops, tablets, flat-panel television sets and game boxes, all tied together through the Cloud.
Yes, our communication tools have changed but there is one thing that hasn’t changed: our need to belong to our families, our community, our friends. There are just more opportunities as we now have the tools to know a lot more people than we used to — and we can now number our friends from many more places and cultures than we used to.