Hatching Free Range Ideas

Social media and large numbers

In How we learn and think on May 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I attended a TEDEX planning event last night. It was full of social media wonks, people really dedicated to exploring and exploiting the digital tools for connecting with others around the globe. I heard, “I have over 500 Facebook friends,” and “If you really want people to listen to you, you have to get into a closed network, like Yammer.” Someone finally mentioned the “Meat Network.”

All the way home I chewed over these ideas. Today I wonder how our reliance on this large volume, low effort contact medium impacts our high effort, individual, long or multi-conversation contact. I haven’t found that incredible meeting of the minds through random contact, but then I haven’t sent out thousands of contacts either. And I don’t buy lottery tickets. Are they similar?

I LOVE the idea of social media as a game changer. The ability for each to be a broadcaster has undeniable power when you look at recent situations in the Middle East, when you consider India’s informal citizen-powered corruption patrols, when you review Kenyan citizen broadcasts on how to avoid violence and still vote in the 2008 elections.

I understand the power of numbers in knowing, especially around life changing, world changing events, where the population is already bought-in. In fact, where the population cannot avoid being affected. I don’t yet understand the power of numbers in building relationships or of connecting people beyond safety and general welfare.

So, if social media works best after a groundswell, what do you need to create the groundswell? This whole idea of going viral is interesting but I’m not sure that we’re exploring it deeply enough. What are the conditions behind viral events? Memes? What’s the life of a viral event? I know there are people out there who know these answers. But my network isn’t large enough to include them. And if it did, what is their compunction to respond to MY needs? I mean, really, why bother?

Do the roots of big numbers still start as an email that says, “Hey, have you seen this?” from someone I know or respect,  or from someone whom I respect as a broadcaster from a relationship built over long periods of time. Or a random web encounter withe a message so compelling that it touches my heart and my psyche. I know those two triggers generate a personal, button pushing response.

So, if I put that shoe on the other foot, my foot, it’s very difficult to create those messages. Their roots are in meaningful lives. Hard, huh?

In lieu of that, we must rely on the socially-awkward stumbling over multiple meetings to finally allow us to see value in each other’s ideas and life experience.

And that requires patience. I have a very hard time being patient slogging through large numbers. Are you going to find me? Am I going to find you? Or will a random conversation in line at a local book signing or coffee shop, lead to another conversation later when our meat network nodes connect once again, and again and finally third time’s a charm, we make arrangements to actually get together. Maybe via Skype? Or in Second Life?

  1. Can you tell that wonk is my current favorite word? Say it. Wonk. See? fun.

  2. Kate, You’ve ask some very important, game-changing questions. This is one of those blogs that I want to send to some very key thinkers. And right this second, on this subject I can’t even think of one. Thanks for making me really “think”! BTW, what is a wonk?

  3. A wonk is someone who goes into the details of a subject, like way into the details for the purpose of the subject itself. I think it comes from “policy wonk,” which describes someone who follows policy for the sake of understanding and crafting policy.

    I use it to describe someone who studies something in so much detail that they risk losing sight of the bigger picture, but it’s also an acknowledgement of their expertise in the details of the subject.

    But that’s my definition.

    Do other people have others?

  4. No I don’t have “another definition”, but I do like yours a lot…and I like the word “wonk” too, it’s fun to say.

  5. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the word, wonk, but I knew exactly who you were talking about. They should be flattered.

    Facebook(internet social networking) is about deepening a shallow connection slightly over time. Like making a railroad tie with a block plane. Or carving 4 initials in Formica, then blackening them in with a used up bic.

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