The Politics of Social Media

Posted: July 5, 2013 in Piano

Before there is order, there is anarchy.

I receive way too many tweets from people who promise to show me the correct way to use social media.  It is amazing how many people want to tell me how to use Google +, Youtube, Tweeter, Facebook, and other social media sites correctly, in a way that helps me enjoy the maximum benefits that social media offers.

In this blog I want to explain who these ‘experts’ are and what motivates them as advocates of their preferred social media.

It is hard to pinpoint a time when a social system forms. Most social systems we encounter are already developed. There are towns, clubs, associations, institutions, and every form of social groups, but you would be hard pressed to understand the social conditions which existed prior to the creation of any of those social groups. I am going to help you think about that.

Place yourself in a time 150 years ago. Within your lifetime, it is most probable that you would not have traveled more than 20 miles from your home. That is how far a person can walk in a single day. You might do that once, and you might do it twice, but you would not do it often.

Now place yourself in a time 3,500 years ago. You live in a tribe of family members in an isolated and remote area. As you view the whole map, you see that people are scattered here and there with no real connection. If you travel 20 miles from your tribe, it may cost you your life. Travel is very risky. Each village has a few members who are assigned the task of traveling to the nearest village. You are not one of those. You remain in your community your whole life. You might travel once, maybe twice, and if you live, you would remember those infrequent trips the rest of your life!

In 1990, a mere 23 years ago, I flipped a switch on the back of my Macintosh and connected to the internet. Millions of other people did too, and a new society was born. There were few social rules.  It was a new road, and there was a lot of risk and reward. You might meet a friend. You might meet a spammer, or virus-packing thieve. As we each encountered new experiences, we needed words to explain those experiences. Words like spam, trojan and flame were created. Hundreds upon hundreds of words were invented to explain the phenomenon of the social encounters we experienced.

Who creates these new words? Who has the power to insist that people in a tribe adopt and adhere to a set of preferred behaviors? These people are drawn from the ranks of those who are offended and intolerant of behavior which they think is unacceptable. In conversation, they find each other and unite for a common purpose: the betterment of the community.

Thirty-five hundred years ago you could be ex-communicated, banned, or expelled from a tribe. As the internet became more social, you also risked being banned from a site. Eventually, it became necessary to reveal who you are, and to give others access to your most personal information in order to participate in the community. Where there was once an ability to participate and retain your privacy, that ability, for the most part, no longer exists. Social media started as a populated tribe with no rules, and slowly became what it is today. (And it is not over!)

And those people, more accurately: those people who are cut from the same cloth as the earliest advocates of a rule-based social internet, one which protects us from the thieves and thugs – those people are still active in the effort to improve the social interactions that occur between those who live in the web.

In an effort to bring order to the social internet, they try to teach us how to create blogs, how to write a blog, what to tweet, how often to tweet, what to place on Facebook, what not to place on Facebook, and on and on and on. What motivates them if a desire to create a social environment which maximizes the potential of the community. What compels them, often, is their deeply held objections to undesirable behaviors. In a word, they are politicians.

Politics means (literally) adopting a means to an end. We teach in order to cultivate a more educated community. We create rules to promote social justice. We favor good relations in order to promote civility. We employ the same techniques fostering social development that were used thirty-five hundred years ago. You can still be expelled, banned or ex-communicated. You can be stalked. There are ‘creepers’ lurking in the shadows.

The internet is just a trade route. It is just a roadway which connects us to people who live in other villages. Human behavior did not change. Human interaction did not change. And the rules of social development did not change. The only thing that changed is the roadway. It now exists. Moreover, many of us remember the time before the roadway existed. We saw how the internet developed, how freedom was sacrificed for the interest and well-being of the community, how profiteers sought to make money from the traffic on the roadway, how government attempted to curtail and prohibit certain activities, how people were interacting without rules, and how others rushed into the conversation to tell us how to live, what to tweet, how to Facebook, all based on the same principles that guide the patterns of social development.

Since I am American, I have a strong anti-authoritarian disposition. I believe this is a cultural trait, not entirely a personal preference, because I prefer to be civil and cooperative with people. But there is something inside me that makes me react to all these cordial invitations to use the internet as others would have me do. Do I really need someone to instruct me on the proper way to tweet? Perhaps I would if I was motivated to make money. And it occurs to me that most people who are trying to get me to use social media the right way, are also trying to make money doing it. In some respects, they are just another thief on the road.

But there are others who are just motivated to improve the community. I miss the anarchy of the early internet. I was never one to be too fearful of the dangers found on a new roadway. But I do understand that others were fearful, and I understand the need to make the world a better place. Social media experts do not offer me much. But I can see that others can benefit. I am just a traveler on a new roadway. Maybe I am not walking and talking the way others would have me do, but it works just fine for me.

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