I was wondering about an amazing (well to me it is) “discussion” I saw on a blog post over at Mashable. Mark Rizzn Hopkins wrote a post about Early adopters and it didn’t take long before many people jumped on that to provide their opinion.
In the post, entitled “4 questions for every early adopter” Mark tries to describe a stereotype of an early adopter. I kinda liked his stance, I have written about this exact topic before. If you look at it from a wider perspective I feel that the whole Silicon Valley circus with blogs, pr machines, and early adopters running around jumping every cool service they get their hands on is quickly losing it’s sparkle. I wrote a post on that over at Steven Hodson’s blog, if you are interested. But that isn’t what I was looking at.
What I found amazing was the comments that were left behind on Mashable after Mark had published his post. I went through them, one by one, and found that the tone of voice was pretty aggressive in many of the comments. Mark was able to quickly get a pro and a con crowd together in one place. It’s seems that talking about early adopters isn’t without danger.
I found several food fights going on in public where people weren’t really discussing or debating anything. Instead people were passionately writing what they felt was the truth. And that got me to think a little. This social media thing and the value of it. The real power of social media lies in the ability to interact. But to be honest, I wonder if people are really interacting sometimes.
I believe that the weakness in this assumption is very subtle. Social media allows interaction but at the same time, this interaction is bound by a very different set of rules than real-life interactions.
In real-life we have gesture, senses, feelings, etiquette, social control and pressure, and they surround us all. It makes us act in a certain way. It ensures that, in general, we try to be civilised when together. Of course people fight, scream and call names, but it comes at a cost. If you get yourself into such a situation your blood pressure rises, you get agitated, frustrated, feel bad or whatever.
And that is where Social Media interaction becomes different. I feel that once we are on-line, our behavior changes considerably. While we may be shy in real life, it is a lot easier to become outspoken on-line. That isn’t just because you might have a different identity on-line, maybe even one that doesn’t trace back to you in real life. The same thing holds for people, including myself, that simply extend their real life identity on to the web.
It’s the way we get together on-line. Using a keyboard and a computer screen somehow doesn’t make the experience “real” and personal. You may have a public online profile, but it is detached from real life. Social media can let us interact anywhere we want, but on-line interaction very different from real-life interactions.
It is for that reason people that may be shy in real-life can become outspoken on the web. It also makes us all experts on any matter, even if we don’t know a thing about it. That is why a “discussion” over at that Mashable article isn’t really a “discussion”. People find it easy to be an expert, be offensive or rude. It’s this attitude that makes it hard to have a great discussion, or to explore something with a crowd. Instead of asking questions, we are all eager to provide answers.
I realized (again) that this happens all the time. You can read blogs, comments, discussions on Friendfeed, or any other platform only to find that in many cases the opinions ventilated make the air so thick that it is impossible to learn anything from it. We claim the truth, act like subject experts on any matter, and sometimes even call each other names. Once we get online we feel less vulnerable and start acting like fools.
The one case where this doesn’t happen very often? It’s when you are online getting together with real friends. Then similar stimuli take control of the situation and you start acting like your usual self again. It’s a trap we all fall into one time or another.
All of this above applies to me too of course. I write about Social media technology and their effect on human behavior. I do this because I’m passionate about it. Can I really consider myself an expert on these matters? I don’t know really. So it is best to take everything you read here with a grain of salt.
Remember, just because it is written down doesn’t make it true!