There was an article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail talking about social media, and how it’s changing our views on privacy and online voyeurism, or “oversharing” (see Pop Culture Gives Way To Peep Culture). At the end of the article, there’s a statement questioning whether we’re really connecting to others, or simply connecting to ourselves.

My question is: regardless of who we’re connecting to – aren’t both a good thing? Sure, narcissism and voyeurism can both get a little out of control – but some introspection never hurt anyone, nor reaching out. The thing that is distinctly different about social media, and absolutely essential and long overdue, is the shift of power. No longer are we limited to a unidirectional information flow, where we passively read whatever the big news chains decide we should be interested in, and what side of the story we should support. Information is power, and I for one, resent it being hoarded.

A book I’ve been reading lately (see The Return Of Depression Economics And The Crisis Of 2008) talks about how capitalism isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve been able to come up with so far. And that the time is ripe for a shift in macroeconomic theory to rival the likes of Keynesianism, if only we could figure one out. Well, it’s made me think. And I think that what’s missing from our faulty economic model these days is the lack of recognition that the free flow of information is just as profoundly foundational in our current global economic system as the two pillars of capitalism – the free flow of capital and the free flow of people.

And speaking of capital, there’s another element that’s been missing in all those hideous economic models (can you guess which courses I hate the most in my Master’s? I am SO not an economist. That’s right folks, big time arts major over here.) – the failure to adequately account for, capture and measure social capital.

Ah, Ms. Smartypants, what’s social capital you ask? (I’ve recently been accused of using deliberately obfuscating phraseology – appropriately, obviously – when I spoke of my blogging causing a friend to get back to her neglected blog as a positive externality. I have been spending WAY too much time in the classroom lately, dudes.) Social capital is the idea that social connections between people affect the broader productivity of individuals and groups. There’s all sorts of other fancy words related to this concept – things like associational life and social cohesion – but what’s key is that when people get together and help each other out, it has positive effects on other, seemingly unrelated things. It has been identified in producing higher levels of trust, greater civic participation, greater reciprocity, improved performance in diverse work teams, and even greater health (apparently, joining an organization reduces a person’s chance of dying within the next year by half – see Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital). Yeah, but any Mom of young children could have told all those fancy schmancy researchers that bringing over a hot pot of coffee to another Mom can be lifesaving.

The blogosphere not only has both elements, but it continuously enables, creates and feeds both elements – the free flow of information and social capital – in an ever-expanding spiral.

So move over, Mr. Newspaperman, the bloggers are on the move. We’ve decided to change the world while you’re busy worrying about your revenue stream. The medium is still the message. So you might want to pay attention to what the medium is doing. Social media is not social because of its content, but because of its structure. It’s less about what we share, than the fact that we do.


2 comments so far

  1. moosilaneous on

    YES – I’m be pumping my arm in the air – as if that would assist your message any.

    There’s a whole set of theories about knowledge as capital, and another set about individuals and groups reactiing to change etc., too – but what’s happening is bigger than all that.
    I, for one, am fascinated with the revolution in connectivity occurring right now.

  2. DaniGirl on

    Oooo, neat topic! I noticed and meant to read the article you linked to in the Globe when I saw it last week and now it’s subscription only. Boo. Just wanted to say hi and that you’ve got an intriguing blog here — I’ll be back!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: