Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Time Travellers use Social Media to stay out of touch

In his latest blogpost, Professor Eddie Obeng issues a challenge to all social media sites: "Let's make Social Media really Social" Eddie seems to think that there is a big mistake with early 21st-century social media. 

He writes of his love for 'swooshing and swiping' his screens, hearing in his head the god-like voice of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, commanding the device to “Make it so”. And it happens!  Bigger, smaller, up, down.  But then he complains that all the swooshing and swiping isn't natural or human, but is fun and extremely rewarding.  

He describes how we love broadcasting to the world and updating our timelines, describing how "somewhere inside my head I feel like a celebrity, imagining all the adoring fans who are following my every word, every tweet.  (In reality it's just one or two friends who I bug until they respond.)  And it sort of happens!  Diagnostics tell us the hits, people tell us their likes (and dislikes).  It’s not interaction, it’s not banter, it’s not a real emotional and creative discourse, but it is fun and rewarding."

Eddie then gives us an insight into the strategy for the development of QUBE, the world's first collaborative-learning social medium for executives and managers.  He says: "When we began developing QUBE, I was adamant about many things.  Mostly that it replicated as much as possible the grown-up business environment with the Trojan horse of learning disguised at its core, so that we could achieve the vision of learning without boundaries.  I had in mind a Lloyds-style coffee house atmosphere (important to be able to breakout and have sub-conversations) mixed with a Leonardo da Vinci-style artist's studio, with younger artists learning and applying the skills they needed, showing their sketches to each other, sharing their experiments with each other and surpassing their teacher."  He claims that "This is human, this is interactive, it’s banter, emotional and creative, and it’s fun and rewarding."

Having begun to make his case against social media, Eddie invites us to watch his Google Zeitgeist talk, where he describes how 21st-century people have stuck to 19th-century habits of commuting, so that people leave a home well-equipped with the latest computer, super-fast broadband and 21st-century tech to travel to an office with a slow, locked-down 20th-century computer connected to the internet through a piece of wet string!  He calls commuters ‘Time Travellers’, as they travel back and forward covering a distance of 200 years in an hour!

Eddie then insists that by sticking to our old habits we have no chance of creating real demand for what he calls Social Media 2.0.  He states that "As long as we continue to pursue the 19th-century habit of moving atoms (our bodies) instead of electrons, we will have lots of boring, low-quality time on trains, in queues and in cars.  This boring time we will fill using our mobile devices to interact with data.  Why?  Because although it’s a lower grade experience than interacting with people, it’s better than getting bored.  And it avoids the potential awkwardness of social interaction or interrupting what a friend is doing (nothing, they are just composing a text to you!).  So we broadcast asynchronously.  And we read, and we watch cat videos selectively.  It’s not interactive, it’s not banter, it's not emotional and creative, but it is fun and rewarding."

Finally, he suggests that the real challenge for Facebook, Twitter and other social media is their business model.  By operating a business model where the asynchronous, non- verbal, typed-up data generated by users is the key source of revenue, they are trapped in the mode of intermediaries, keeping us apart and out of touch so that they can collect and track the data we provide.  

He ends by saying: "I hope that Facebook 2.0, Twitter 2.0 and other early 21st-century social media platforms will begin to go the same way as QUBE,  finding ways to allow people to interact over and above the data-driven activities. ... I do hope they will try to reinvent themselves. Because I for one don’t want to interact with data, I want to interact with people."

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