Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Standing straight on social media

Many people like to point out the ills and negatives of social media, but then again, many people like to pretty much complain about anything and everything!  Frankly, I dislike that type of attitude and that type of individual.  Social media certainly has its negative, even dark side, but don't blame the technology, blame the people involved.  After all, Internet 2.0 has to do with people-to-people interactions and not everyone likes to play nice.

It's a waste of time!

Some of the basic rants against social media are:
  • It's a waste of time
  • It promotes cyber-bullying, to the point of causing people to commit suicide
  • It provides a strength of voice which people can hide behind
  • It exposes our personal lives and we don't want to be judged on our drunkenness, sexual preferences or perversities, political opinions, moral choices, etc., etc., etc.
  • HR departments look at social media to evaluate us and reject our job applications (this happens about 12% of the time BTW!), or universities refuse to grant scholarships because they didn't like the way we behave as exhibited online
  • Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google are all evil corporations because they control the world and our behavior (what bullshit!)
Yes, all these things happen, but it is the people involved, not the technology medium that causes most of the problems.  The technology allows word to travel further and faster and reach far more people, and with that comes a responsibility to use it properly.  But as with a lot of things from the atomic bomb, guns, biology, the pen - these things can be used for good or evil.

I have a great admiration for social media and am very actively involved with the expectation I will become even more actively involved in the future.  What has social media, when used properly done for me?
  • I found out my dad had a massive stroke and was able to proactively reach out to people through finding out on Facebook before my mom was able to focus and contact me
  • I have connected with a slew of high school and community friends where I grew up and stay closely connected
  • I am part of a "cousin's family group" where we share information, humor, and support for each other
  • I am part of a 25-year ago work group when we were all together doing great things in Indonesia
  • I have access to and have formed multiple common interest communities to share knowledge and support each other
  • I have been able to seek and find knowledge I could not have found out as easily or at all through other means - it has become a real productivity tool for me instead of a time waster (of course, that happened once I gave up Bejeweled Blitz!)
  • I have met friends with similar passions and in many cases have met them physically and become friends beyond the online world
  • I have been inspired and supported by a great number of true friends I have only met online, and I know and have achieved feedback from others on how I have changed their life, or influenced their decision-making or choice of products
I had a powerful experience today which connected me with a dear friend and colleague which could never have happened without social media.  We met and worked together on a number of interesting projects over the years, from the Czech Republic, to Australia to Russia.  He was one of the fortunate survivors of 9/11.  I had not been in contact with Dan in about eight years since I had dinner with him in New York where he lives, the last time I visited New York.

However, on the anniversary last September of 9/11, I wrote a passionate post in SAZ in the Cellar as a remembrance and given what Dan and another friend had gone through, I dedicated the post to them.  And today, Dan commented on my post!  I am not sure how he saw it - he may have seen a LinkedIn status of my current blog posting and then reviewed some previous posts, including the one on 9/11.  Or he may have done an Internet search on his name and 9/11 and found the post.  Regardless, he found it, commented and then shared a most amazing story with me that I have shared onto others regarding how his phone from one of the fallen World Trade Center towers was found two blocks away by a New York fireman, and how they have connected and how the phone has now found its way to the 9/11 Museum.  It is an amazing story, one that made me (and my wife) cry and moved me greatly with regard to the power of human relationships, especially in the context of tragedy.

Dan, the fireman and the phone that brought them together

Dan and I were moved by our exchanges today and none of it could have happened without social media.  So don't give me your bullshit on how social media is evil, or any more of your negative attitude.  Embrace social media and use it properly and exploit its ability to share, support and inspire others!  We all control our choices and our actions - don't be blaming technology, don't be blaming the great companies and entrepreneurs who have done so much to make our life better and easier.  And don't be blaming others who participate in a negative way - just ignore them.

(BTW, it was the post on 9/11 and usurping the purpose of my SAZ in the Cellar blog, which was the impetus for creating the Steve Shout Out blog.)

There are a number of things that can be done to improve the use and influence of social media:
  • De-friend contacts who are negative, racist or in other ways rude or exhibit derogatory behavior (I know a friend who did this today)
  • Support each other and reach out to people with common passions, interests or similar profiles to you in terms of hobbies, groups they belong to and so forth
  • Don't accept blind invites until qualified first
  • Establish privacy and sharing settings to control who you share, post to, and communicate with
  • Don't play solitary games unless they have some positive benefit such as improving your manual dexterity, your logical thinking process, etc.
  • Don't be drawn into feeling you need to respond to stupid posts by ill-informed idiots!
  • Don't be stupid and do stupid things publicly!
  • Be aware and sensitive to the types of hoaxes that can be perpetuated via social media and do what you can to verify all interactions are legitimate and honorable - I know this is difficult and  Ihave been sucked in myself a few times, but more astute now on how to pick up on them
  • Embrace, don't fight social media and its positive benefits
I have made some great friendships and learned so much through social media.  I also have attracted some negative attention, which I have initially responded to and tried to correct or just ignored if it did not seem like the other person was willing to engage constructively.  You control who you are connected to, and what you look at and what you say.  If you need to blame someone for the negative aspects of social media, then blame yourself.

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
My wine blog:  SAZ in the Cellar

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