Take a look at this fun video that is a wonderful example of the miscommunication at its finest: Communication: Sender/Receiver, Abbott & Costello Comedy Routine:
Although this is an older comedy routine, it is a perfect example of miscommunication between the sender of the message and the receiver. Over 60 years later, we have cell phones, text messaging and, lately, social media as tools to communicate with one another. Jose Van Dijck is the author of The Culture of Connectivity: A critical history of social media which was published in 2006 by the Oxford University Press. She examines the rise of social media with a critical eye. The first chapters explore social media’s governance, ownership, users/usage, business models and technology. The remaining chapters provide examples of social media sites and their impact on our culture. Aside from the author’s thoughts, I will provide my thoughts of the remaining chapters and what would have provided more balance to the author’s perspective.
One of the overarching themes that I see is that the consolidation of traditional media is occurring in the new media (networked world). Brands such as Fox and ABC produce content and own the channels of distribution for the content. For example, Disney’s Hannah Montana show is produced by Disney. The new season is promoted through ABC’s Good Morning America and the Hannah Montana’s popularity is advanced through movies produced by Touchstone Pictures. In the era of the networked world, Google provides users a full platform of services. The user can access the web through Chrome, search the web using Google, view videos via YouTube, check the email with Gmail, store documents on Google Drive and purchase online using Google Wallet. With this, Google can serve users personalized ads based upon the users’ interaction with the platforms. Google owns the platforms to serve the internet to the user while providing features to enhance the users’ experience on the internet. Is this the era of networked world consolidations as the 20th century was the era of consolidated media? Not sure, as this is a relatively new era and one that is less developed than traditional media. The book did not touch on this aspect as much although parallels could be drawn between the two.
Another interesting phenomenon is one of ownership. This is especially true in the story of Flickr. Early adopters of the site tended to claim ownership of it. The users then became irate when corporate interests become involved in the site. Yahoo! wanted the site for the user data while Flickr users wanted to maintain the community aspect of the site. Either way, the company itself remains private which means the owners can do what they surmise is best for the entity. It is not a publicly traded entity. The early adopters equated usage of a social media site with ownership of it. Spending a lot of time at the site and on the site as part of a user community does not necessarily equate to the time and effort spent to develop a site and make it available for use by the end user and profitable for the company. Many social media sites companies struggle with issues of monetization. How does the site make money? Even still, can the site turn a profit? Corporate interests will eventually govern many social media sites. Google sells ad space to organizations and delivers content to users based on the user habits. YouTube offers the same ads either as a pop-up within the video or as a prelude to it. In short, either the user will see ads in exchange for the free services or the user will pay to not see the ads. The old saying “nothing is free” is certainly applicable in this sense.
Adhocracy: everyone is in charge, occasionally
The author posed the idea of an adhocracy which is the polar opposite of a bureaucracy. In an adhocracy “thousands of ad hoc, multidisciplinary teams form temporary alliances to create and maintain content according to narrowly defined tasks.” This definition applies especially to Wikipedia which has thousands who contribute to the online encyclopedia of knowledge. In short, everyone takes turns to be the leader in their content area. However, this is not quite accurate. The adhocracy is more of an ideal than a reality. According to the author, bots are used for tasking ranging from administration to editing to creating entire pages of data. The bureaucracy still stands and it is governed increasingly by automation.
Social media: why not?
Users agree to exchange privacy for connectedness. This is truly the users’ choice. The companies can only share what is first shared with them. To play devil’s advocate, it would have been interesting to hear about those who are not on Facebook or other social media sites. What would they say about the world of sharing? Why are they not on these sites? Why do they choose not to engage? Are non-users more connected off-line than their online counterparts? It would have been interesting for the author to explore the other side of the argument. The reader is not provided a balanced view of this larger aspect of social media; those who do and those who don’t.
Anecdotally, those who do not engage in social media see the entire concept as a popularity contest. Perhaps, they are right and choose to maintain a sense of privacy. Even the author refers to it as the “attention economy.” Advertisers will pay a premium to get as much of the users’ attention as possible.
Everything old is new again
The book was published in 2006; it is now 2015. The 11 year real-time span may seem like an eternity in technological years. However, people are not that different. At the core there is a desire to connect with others. Earlier, it was face-to-face via oral history. Then it was through the printed press. Connections were made in places less local. Next, we connected via television to foreign lands. Now, we connect to one another without the previous barriers of distance, time, geography and language. Through these changes, likely, the definition of relationship has evolved much as our tools to communicate have evolved. Maybe at the dawn of radio, many listeners felt they had a relationship with the story teller or news broadcaster. With the advent of television, maybe the listener felt he or she had a relationship with the actor or actresses on the favored television shows. With social media, we think we have a relationship, not with the central character in a broadcast, but with one another. We have relationships with the ordinary person who, much like us, goes to work each day, does what is needed to support the family and has dreams and desires of either a better life or for his or her current life to not change.
Social media and its corresponding technology co-exists alongside the other ways that we have communicated for thousands of years. Although the definition of and tools used to establish relationships have evolved, we yearn to be connected to one another. Add social media to the tools we already use to establish relationships.