Before social media, many believed that small talk held us together. It was how we kept things at the surface where we could show courtesies, respect, and basic kindness and stay away from areas of friction. Small talk, they said, was the fabric that held our society together. Instead, I believe we just wasted a century talking about the weather.
Religion, politics, sex, crime, children, and money are all discussed openly through social media. Real debate occurs now. There are few taboos. Many of the limits society placed on itself in earlier generations are gone and it is liberating and energizing. Every day we learn about and discuss issues that matter.
That's the positive view. The dark side of this is that many are not part of this exchange and have opted out because they fear and misunderstand this new world. I hope this changes.
Many say social media reduces our privacy, and I agree. The fundamental difference between the previous generation and this one is that this one generally doesn't see that as a bad thing. It is an issue of culture and values and the "you're either with us or against us" paradigm labels these big 21st century changes as "bad" or "good". Privacy: good. Openness: bad.
Collaboration was a buzzword in the last century. It is the model for this one.
Some think that too many people share meaningless things through social media. It keeps us "communicating" too much of the time so we spend less time living and relating to each other in a real way. Hogwash.
What social media does is bring public places into our personal space. We now have access to the city centre, the marketplace, the sports field, or the trade show floor wherever we are, whenever we want it. In these places we are public, not private.
Because of our online familiarity with each other, when we find ourselves face to face we don't waste time with the small talk, that's all out of the way. We dive straight into the meaningful, interesting, productive dialogue that enriches us, informs us, energizes us and challenges our creativity.
As a result, the people of this age are more creative, energized by ideas and opportunities, connected and, most importantly, collaborative. Research even shows that the more social people are online, the more social they are offline. That's a fact that many on the outside of social media will have a hard time understanding or even believing.
It's not a matter of intelligence. It's a matter of culture and perspective.
Small talk is so 1999. Wasting face to face time talking about what we had for lunch, what we think of the weather, who we saw walking down the street - these are true wastes of opportunity and relationship when we are together. This is what constituted most social interaction in the last century and now occupies a minimum of our conversations online today. This is what critics believe is so valuable and is being lost on the online folk. Seriously?
On twitter I sometimes share things of this nature in addition to sharing the most interesting experiences of my day, ideas, articles, perspectives, news, data, and opportunities. My relatively closed network on Facebook or my controlled circles on Google+ see my family photos, my interests, and the events I am attending. If you care to know me, it's there. No one is forcing you to read about my life but it enables you to know me better. Your daily news becomes the news from my life and the lives of the other people you know and have chosen to connect with.
The Dialogue That Builds a Society
Forget the period pieces of hillbillies and yokels; the pioneers of the 1800s built a society with confidence, aggression, vision, and tenacity and there is plenty of historical evidence that these pioneers said what needed to be said, did what needed to get done, and built the foundation for a middle class that fed our economy for the century that followed. I see the same traits emerging in the young people who have entered the workforce in recent years.
What the new generation knows is that the present and the future have a creative foundation and communication feeds that creativity. As these people mature in their careers, understand the sophistication of their professional relationships, and gain confidence in their abilities and experience, expect social media to grow even more crucial in bringing them together so they can make big things happen. They'll have the most powerful tool for collaboration humanity has ever known and the strength of character and perspective to use it in a powerful way.
I've learned a fair bit about how this dynamic plays out in business cultures and how we can plan for good outcomes. I'll hit on that next week...