Social media is your bubble. Not mine.

Umair Haque’s controversial post has caused quite a stir in the community. Bud Caddell’s response mirrors my thoughts and brilliantly articulates the flaws in Umair’s argument. I wanted to share a few thoughts of my own to add to this debate.

It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships. Today social media is trading in low-quality conncetions – linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Umair assets that thin connections offer no value and I have an issue with that. His statement assumes that people are not smart, in that they let crowd their lives (and social networks) with meaningless relationships that add no value to them. I look at it differently. For one, and this is mostly a nod to Bud’s point, social media isn’t meant to help you create new relationships – but to help strengthen existing ones. Frequent interactions whether they are by sharing information, inconsequential tweets or debates, help cement an existing relationship and give it a foundation.

Regarding thin relationships, Haque assumes that they don’t already exist in our “offline” lives. Neighbors, car-pool groups, the yoga group, parents of your kid’s friends – these are all thin relationships. And they do add value to your life – even if the only value they add is convenience. Social media has helped accelerate the quantity of thin relationships we can now create – AND it has created new kinds of value we can extract from these relationships.

I frankly also believe that as a culture we are past the point where an “online” relationship doesn’t constitute a “real” relationship. I look at an online friend, acquaintance or person as somebody I have simply not met in-person yet. Social media tools and technologies have afforded us the ability to get a proper picture of an “online” person’s personality, likes, dislikes and thought processes. We aren’t in the 1990′s where an “online” person was just a username in an IRC chatroom. As such, our definition of the word “relationship” has evolved. Perhaps it hasn’t been verbalized yet.

The “relationships” at the heart of the social bubble aren’t real because they’re not marked by mutual investment .

Social media is an investment that works for multiple relationships. The design of the technology allows your investment in it to affect and reach more than one person at any given time. That said, naturally, if you develop an affinity towards someone thinking, you are bound to communicate more often with them and as such “invest” more time into the relationship. What Haque misses here is that the relationships in social media begin by mutual interest and have the flexibility to grow together or apart into various branches.

In response to Haque’s point about social media’s inability to replace traditional gatekeepers – I think that Social media is not meant to replace or dis-intermediate any gatekeepers but complement their efforts.

People invest in low-quality content. Farmville ain’t exactly Casablanca. Third, and most damaging, is the ongoing weakening of the Internet as a force for good. Not only is Farmville not Casablanca, it’s not Kiva either. One of the seminal examples of the promise of social media, Kiva allocates micro-credit more meaningfully. By contrast, Farmville is largely socially useless. It doesn’t make kids tangibly better off; it just makes advertisers better off.

Calling games like Farmville socially useless, is the biggest and most profound logically flaw in his argument. What differentiates useful from the useless? Because kiva.org is impacting change and Farmville is largely creating entertainment – is that the basis for dismissing the value games like farmville add to the social and cultural environments we thrive in?

If that’s the underlying principle for Haque’s argument, he is essentially implying that entertaining pursuits that don’t make us better off, are useless. And that’s bullshit. We are multi-dimensional people, with multi-dimensional skills, interests, hobbies and desires. If I can donate $50 to Kiva.org, I am also capable of engaging with farmville for two hours. And no other platform reflects this better than social media.

As a society needs a balance of do-gooders, entertainers, bankers, artists and critics to flourish and grow, the evolution of social media and social technologies will only happen with a balance of similar pursuits. For every kiva.org, we need a farmville. At the end of the day, it’s not just about how we are impacting change, but also about how are we constantly challenging the status-quo and enriching our critical thought processes, that creates value and elevates the society as a whole.

Social media, the buzz, the conversations are not in a bubble. They are happening all around us – in our physical world. They are shaping and re-shaping our offline cultures constantly and with that, it is constantly challenging how we look at the world. We are all re-evaluating our opinions and ideas with an acceleration that wasn’t really around before.

Social media is a bubble, because we call it so. We (digital strategists, social media “gurus,” adagency and creative types) live in our own bubble only listening to, responding to and exposing ourselves to each other’s thoughts and ideas. The minute you step out of it and surround yourself with a different set of people, a different set of voices – you’ll notice that social media is not really a bubble anymore.

Just my two cents. Would love to hear what you think.

2 Comments

  1. Ruben Sun March 26, 2010

    I think social media is not an object or thing it’s a verb or action. This makes valuation much more difficult.

    There is no singular social media, there are multiple uses cases for social media engagement. So my only response to Umair is ok… Well, what exactly are you talking about?

    I do feel sympathetic with Bud’s sentiment that many amongst us are bored of social media in general.

    But the solve in this case is similar. What in particular social media engagements are you talking about?

    One other thing. With activities what you put in has a lot to do with what you get out. So… sure people are concerned with the value that can be extracted from social media, but what are you putting in? how much do you care? Because I’ll tell you… those folks on the other end… they care enough to reach back so now the onus is on you. Your fan page has fans, how can *you* provide value for them to reciprocate?

  2. Urban Indian March 27, 2010

    I remember the age old debates about TV being gud or bad…i think its how u use social media…..i pretty much keep in touch with all my fds through it and its nice to know what they are upto….its not abt making new fds, adding value to life, hate or love….its just a way to keep in touch, being updated and in the know….agreed it occupies a large slice of my life – but i like to think of it as being equivalent to what the oldies used to do….reading and writing long letters.

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