Gautam Ghosh, one of my favorite Indian bloggers recently posted how much he and other fans enjoyed talking with popular Indian Ramayana series author Ashok Banker via the author's blog, Twitter and FriendFeed. Banker responded in a comment saying he has stopped participating in social media.
What makes this so interesting to me is Banker's reasons for eschewing social media:
"There shouldn’t be writers and fans. We’re all writers on such
platforms and should be all equal. The moment there are writers and
‘names,’ it’s a failure of the system. I’m sorry but after seeing the
way most bloggers shamelessly abuse the medium to promote themselves and their work instead of genuinely writing something worthwhile, I realized that blogging and microblogging have also become tools to crass commercialism."
This comes one day after Darren Rowse's provocative post asking if blogging has lost it's relational focus, a post that has stirred nearly 60 comments so far, and a post that has had me thinking since I read it. My thoughts on the topic are blended into a book I recently completed, David Halberstram's "The Powers That Be," about American media in the middle of the last century. Among other things, it showed how the incredible promise of pioneer broadcast media emerged to become what the late FCC Commissioner Newton Minnow called, "a vast wasteland," where viewers are fed pap to make them complacent enough to watch an endless supply of banal commercials.
There seems to be a growing sense that social media just ain't what it used to be that it too, is starting to emerge as yet another wasteland for product pushers and shameless self promoters.
Is this really the case? After it's first year of vision, promise and talk of egalitarian conversations, is social media going the way of TV, commercial music, talk radio and so many things that became so much less than they could have been?
I'm not sure. I don't think so. I hope not.
Let's look at evidence on two sides. First, the case for a social media wasteland. The body of evidence seems to be growing these days, in the yes of a good many observers. Celebrity bloggers seem increasingly aggressive, competitive and contriving in what they post. Online video is trending more to the entertaining and away from the useful content. The difference between popularity and influence seems to have become muddled. Commercialism is becoming rampant and the idea of getting closer with customers through conversations seems to be at odds with those who want to put messages into the faces of social media visitors, who turned to social media to get away from them. Altercations are getting more frequent, more bitter and more personal. Spammers are automated in their assault on Twitter.
And so it goes. These trends concern me. On a bad day, I fear the visions of founding pioneers like Dave Winer and Doc Searls will be blurred by a new wave of camp followers and shysters who will distort the original thinking in a way that George Orwell would envy.
That is the view from the dark side. In that darkness, one can find true ugliness as Kathy Sierra, who was driven out of blogging by it can attest.
But there is another side, one that depicts a rosier view, one that says that social media will erode the power of those who wish to be in command and control and gives it to the masses who will use it with greater congeniality. It's the side that sent Laurel Papworth to Saudi Arabia to help Muslim women start a social network; that inspired the unassuming Erik Hersman to help start a wiki during civil disturbances so that Kenyans could see where the violence was and avoid it; or Wael Abbas to post videos of Egyptian police brutality on YouTube. More than that, it is the everyday people doing everyday things in everyday places that keeps me believing that this current technological revolution will, over time, do more good than bad.
Blogs, wikis, podcasts, microblogs and other items on the growing list are, in themselves, neither good nor evil. They are just tools, like hammers, or telephones or email accounts. What is important is what people do with these tools. You can use a hammer to either build or bludgeon and the same may be true of some social media tools.
Some companies look at social media toolsets and see new channels for exporting old stuff like adds and spam and messages they want to insert into your foreheads. others see the ability to get closer with customers, or perhaps their partners or own employees.
I obviously prefer the latter to the former, but I do not get to choose. People choose and they choose by what efforts over time prove to be successful. If people embrace garbage like Pay per Post, it will succeed. If people embrace people who provide useful and interesting content, then that is what will succeed. And the outcome that will dominate in the end remains to be seen. It will remain that way for many years, or so it seems to me.
These days, many of us are seeing more crap in social media than was formerly the case. We are seeing egos that are swelling to the bursting point; personal and ugly confrontations and new and annoying forms of spam deception.
But in the end, I remain as I always have, an optimist that more good than bad will emerge from a new phenomenon. I think Darren misses how much relationality is occurring every day all over the web, because the ugly stuff casts such a long shadow. I want to tell author Ashok Banker to come back, there is more going on here that he may have witnessed and so very much of it is for the good.