I am a techtopian, or so I’ve heard from other people. But, I accept this description only as it applies to social media. Not all technology is beneficial to who we are and how we live. I’m not in love with huge databases and those who use them to catalog everything about me to market products to me or encourage me to vote for a certain candidate. But, I do love the array of inexpensive (particularly, free!) social media tools that increases everyone’s opportunity to participate in conversations and create their own content in text, video, audio — or some combination of all of the above! Of course, being anything that ends in -topian can lead to enthusiasm that borders on zealousness.
I sometimes launch into advocacy mode with the passion of a suffragist when I read what I believe to be unconsidered criticisms of social media efforts. This happened last week when the Washington Post published a poorly considered article about the “ineffectiveness” of Causes on Facebook. My criticism of the article centered on the fact that the Post had written an identical article to it last year with no new information in this year’s edition, and that their narrow definition of success belied other areas where Causes has been very successful, such as raising awareness of issues by friends connecting with friends to share information about causes. This was followed by what I thought was a very silly response to the Post writers to the criticism that, “We’re not in the business of responding to criticism on blogs, but if people are interested enough to contact me directly I am more than willing to have a conversation with them.”
I had a similar reaction yesterday when I read Matt Bai’s opinion piece about Twitter and politics in the NY Times Magazine. Bai, a generally very thoughtful chronicler of new media and politics, came to this conclusion about Twitter and politics, “And whatever else Americans may be craving in our politics these days, brevity and immediacy aren’t among them.” Really, American’s don’t want immediacy in their politics, we’d prefer politicians and policies to keep at a far distance? That blanket statement sums up Bai’s blanket dismissal of politicians using Twitter as entirely banal and counterproductive, lumping all Twitterers into the inane category. Certainly there is more than enough inanity going on on Twitter, but not all of it and certainly not the instances that enable politicians, not their staffers using Twitters as a direct mail piece, to talk directly to interested constituents. I like knowing that Claire McCaskell is a real person who is trying to figure out what to eat for lunch — and trying to fix the health care system.
And that brings me to the pont of my post! At the end of last week, a reader, Alfred Gracombe, posted a comment about the Washington Post flap that read, in part:
While I generally enjoy the content of this blog, it has been a bit dispiriting to see how the dialogue here has evolved. I think it lost its civil tone and the waters have been muddied and the battle lines drawn to the point where it’s not clear what the main points of the disagreement are anymore. And this is coming from someone who would normally be on your side of the argument. I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector for almost 15 years on technology and communications issues. I embrace social media. I’m often frustrated with the mainstream media. But with all due respect, I just don’t feel this is the best way to seek truth and promote healthy, civic dialogue.
And it stopped me short. One thing that is very, very easy to do as a blogger is to slide quickly and irreversably from criticism to sarcasm all the way to snarky. And I appreciate this reader’s thoughtful comment that he felt that I crossed over to the dark side last week. My frustration boils, and sometimes boils over, with the constant drumbeat from the mainstream media that social media is ruining civilization as we know it; whether it’s Maureen Dowd asking The Twitter guys why they have set out to destroy civilization as we know it (read this delicious satire of Dowd’s column here) , or the Washington Post reporters seemling taking some glee in what they see as the ineffectiveness of Causes, or Matt Bai declaring that politics is doomed because of Twitter. Theirs is a too-often knee-jerk Chicken Little approach to Twitter or any other social media tools that is in love with the blanket dismissal of their use and utility without taking a more careful and nuanced approach of when, where and how the tools are most useful. Their instant and overarching dissmisal of the benefits, and more importantly as we’re just beginning this revolution into a new, connected world, the positive potential of social media is disheartening.
My response to Mr. Gracombe is three-fold:
1. I apologize if my posts last week appeared unnecessarily and unconstructively dismissve to you. It certainly wasn’t my intention and takes away from the points I was trying to make;
2. I an open to suggestions of ways to help engage the mainstream media in a more constructive conversation about the benefits of social media, although I suspect this will only happen once their terror of being permanently replaced subsides. It’s very difficult to talk to people who are petrified that the world as they know it has come to an end — although it already has come to an end for the mainstream media whether they realize it or not. My suggestion to them, if they want to listen!, is that if they stopped panicking for just a minute they’d realize it and, perhaps, embrace new media since the alternative is increasingly irrelevance on their part; and,
3. I have tried to find positive aspects in the criticsm that others have leveled at social media, but this is a good reminder to redouble my efforts to stay again.There is so much good that social media enables and enhances, particularly in the arena of social change, that it is a shame to spend energy, my own and my readers, wallowing in negativity. Thanks for the reminder Mr. Gracombe!
OK, now onward!