Social media thoughts

OK, I admit it, I spend too much time sharing lolcats and not enough time writing new material. I use, if that is an appropriate term, Twitter and Facebook among other things. (Other social media networks are available.)

I notice that last time I talked about integrating social media (on this blog) was in 2009 – in Internet terms that’s a lifetime ago – so what’s changed?

Well, quite a lot actually – especially as mobile applications have developed so much over such a short time.

(Cue the horn solo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony and a sepia-toned gritty mining town backdrop … “we used to dream of having multi-functional touch-screen devices when I were a lad”)

Yes, the humble telephone – as Amrbose Bierce defined it in The Devil’s Dictionary:

TELEPHONE, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

Originally a single function device, tethered to the wall (or worse, in a box in the street) that allowed people to communicate with each other using real-time speech. Now, the mobile phone is becoming a ubiquitous device for communicating in real-time (speech and vision), pseudo-real-time (texts), and not-entirely-real-time (for example, email, Facebook status updates). Oh, and it all educates and entertains (video, eBooks, games…).

I used to work in the telecommunications industry, and during the 1980s “convergence” was a major keyword – the idea that computers and telephones could integrate – and what applications could we develop?

I expect that someone at British Telecomms (they had the UK monopoly until sometime in the 80’s when other players were allowed in the UK market place – another buzz word was “??????” ) had some small idea of what could happen, especially if we were released from our tethered landlines, but I do not think that 30 years ago we could have predicted Angry Birds! (other games are available …)

Five years ago, I thought it might be neat to send blog updates to Twitter, and to send my tweets to Facebook, and looked at how that could be done. Now, well that’s routine, and with services like If that then this acting as glue between diverse applications, I have a lot of control over what aspects of the trivia of my life get shared.

I was talking to a friend recently about how, as a teacher, she could have effective 24/7 presence for her pupils and their parents. I have to say that I think this is a bad idea – teachers, like all people who work or have a vocation, should have time to relax. Stress (waves arms in the air – it’s shorthand) is a big problem for too many of us, but that is something to discuss another time.

I have often thought of how to categorise our communications – and this is not an exhaustive list by any means, just some ideas that occur to me.

There is a difference to my mind between talking to someone (by phone, or in person) and tweeting. Communication is about conveying a message to someone else. If I talk to someone (face to face) then I can use lots of channels of communication – voice (choice of words, inflection), emotion, body language, touch (maybe). There is the immediacy of response from the recipient. I can try to make sure my message gets across, that it is understood, that it will be acted on if necessary. Of course, any communication is open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding, but because there are so many channels of information available, I can try to check that the message is understood. (Turn the tables here, as recipient, I can check my understanding). Of course, there is no guarantee that the message will be acted on – but that’s another problem.

If I send a tweet – I am broadcasting (in 140 characters or less) something that may be picked up if someone who subscribes to my messages (that is, follows me) and happens to pick up the message at some time. The message may not be received by anyone, or it may be picked up a few days later. There will be a record of the message as it passes through various servers from me to you, but there is no guarantee that the message will be received and acted on. Most likely, the message will be lost in the noise.

Some ideas start to emerge here:

  • A tweet (or Facebook status update) is quite ephemeral. Unless you happen to be watching at the right time (or you care enough to search for my words of wisdom, or you have some sort of notification system) the message flies by and is lost.
  • An email is more likely to be received (unless your aggressive spam filters take a dislike to me), though there is no guarantee once delivered that it will be read or acted on, but there is the possibility of an archive of messages that I can easily refer back to, assuming that I don’t cast the message into oblivion (or, as has happened, lose the mailbox file because of a failed disk. I don’t want to talk about it, ok?)
  • A face-to-face conversation may be able to communicate information, but it is likely that (even with the number of surveillance and CCTV cameras we have grown accustomed to) that there will be a poor record of the communication. I probably will forget to do something if I don’t write it down!
  • A blog entry – well that may never be read. (Oh, you are reading it, thank you!).

But there is a catch: “This telephone call will be recorded for ‘training and other purposes'”. The Facebook updates/tweets that you made as a teenager may be found and haunt you. Emails may be intercepted by your employer. Maybe the ephemeral is not quite as short-lasting as we think.

So my advice to my friends: think before you tweet, your message may be taken out of context and misinterpreted. The emotion and body language that you employ is wasted on an email. Facebook will not change the world …

Oh wait a minute. Maybe social media is changing the world?

I find that I am more politically active these days.

Someone posts an item on Facebook (or tweets, emails, whatever) with a link to an online petition. It is easy for me to click the link, sign the petition, and maybe bring some injustice to the attention of someone who can do something about it.

A friend is raising money for a charity by doing something (I don’t know, growing a moustache, walking up Snowdon wearing a giraffe “onsie”). They post a link, I click, and donate to their worthy cause. Cancer research gets funding, or children in Africa get educated.

And then I click the “Tweet this” link, and a message is sent to the twitterarti who follow me, and the message is sent to Facebook for my friends there, and maybe they  retweet or like it, or even visit the site and take action themselves.

And with the convergence of computers and telephones, and the miniaturisation of components, and the power of the multi-core computer that fits in my pocket, I can do all this whilst I’m out and about – maybe drinking coffee with some friends with whom I have met up in real life.

Just goes to show.


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