Social media no longer has the spirit of unbiased discovery and the foundation of open collaboration it used to.
Gone are the bloggers exploring their voice and building story through a variety of mediums. Quiet are the RSS advocates hungry to curate their own discerning media menus then sharing it through their networks which they build with care. Muted are the excited discourse of connected communities who celebrate learnings of others and champion wonder / curiousity.
Platforms now base their whole business model on distraction and extraction; squeezing users for as much information as possible, repackaging to sell on to others, all whilst positioning only the content it wants its patrons to see which keeps them on the platform and in turn, their shareholders happy (as these are paid for ads). And so the cycle continues.
It’s no longer “social” but “suction” media.
And the permeating enabler is the rise in “smart” technology or any “surveillance device that also does something else” (our phones, computers, wearables, childrens toys, cars, offices, homes, cities). This is the crucial layer which provides multiplying access points without awareness and explicit permission from the user, and certainly without due care to the culture its cultivating.
Watch Cory Doctorow drop some knowledge about the impact of all this (an illustration of how deep the rabbit hole really goes):
Welcome to the suction media age.
In 2016 I launched a little blog focussed on how young people are consuming and creating new media. MediaSnackers (and the complimentary Social Media For Suits, a couple years later) became a business and flourished in their modest ways: in 5/6 years hit the six figure turnover threshold plus was employing a handful of awesome humans as well as enabling organisations to accelerate their understanding and adoption of new / emerging technologies.
In that short amount of time it took me to five continents, put me on stages speaking to tens of thousands of other cool folks and basically rapidly increased my learning by using the technology tools and the social media strategies I was championing.
In 2011 the move to NZ was to take up the position of social media manager for a national education company, an opportunity which included the indication of the same company buying into my ventures with the intention of relaunching it in the Southern Hemisphere. This buy-in never transpired and 18 months later I high-fived out and went back to the freelance life. Both MediaSnackers and Social Media for Suits were put into permanent-pause mode and I picked up social media speaking and consulting gigs ever since all over the place.
Even with employment stints like a year as a business designer or a little longer as an activation manager setting up a city-wide event programme, I still kept the social media services going and have been so lucky with the clients I’ve had, the people I’ve met, the wonderful souls I’ve collaborated with, the skills I’ve gained, and the lasting hunger for learning its created.
I owe a debt to the sector of “social” and it’s definitely been on the whole an enriching chapter.
But alas, the soul has been sucked out of it.
If I had the time and energy the focus would be on advocating for a newer form of social technologies. One which has opt-in/out options already built in rather than hidden due to the regulatory protection which protects its users. Assisting the development of school curriculums to focus on teaching algorithm biases and how to navigate / curtail / complain to platform creators. Learn how to code mobile apps / city infrastructure software which act with integrity and appreciation of the users interest first.
However, my service offerings have already been repositioned with this new site design, and the focus is now on:
- creative producing—crafting delicious learning experiences for brands / organisations, continuing with TEDxWellington and also building on the past two independent events (this and this);
- speaker coaching—storytelling and public speaking coaching for senior executives and leaders;
- Creative Welly—imagine if Wellington was the most creative little capital in the world.
Addendum: This doesn’t mean I’m quitting social media and digital technologies. Will continue to utilise these as tools to humanise the brands and activities I’m working on, to add value to communities I interact with, to learn / curate like a banshee whilst celebrating those doing amazing work. It just means I’m no longer taking paid consulting / speaking gigs on it.
…if anyone wants a vitriolic talk taking to task the ninjas and gurus who have diluted the sector or the smart technologists who need to be smarter, then this is the only ‘social / digital media work’ I’ll now be available for. Anyone brave enough?
Great post DK. As a more lately digital media educator (but with a lifelong interest in the philosophic bases of authentic communication), I’ve been concerned about this trend. So cool to have a distinguished, highly experienced practitioner and thinker kiwi put this issue out there.
Kind of agree with some of that, with Facebook, Instagram and twitter algorithms deciding which content to present in their standard set ups. But with some user effort you can still get to see the content you want from the people you want. But the average user perhaps wouldn’t have the motivation to do that. I do still think Social Media is a place for discovery and collaboration, you just have to make sure your following the people who are still generating intersting content, and make sure you can still hear their voice regularly (I recently connected with someone at Greenpeace because of an article posted on Twitter about a VR campaign they ran). Yes our data is being harvested but that’s the price you pay to use these platforms for ‘free’.
Hey Andy – I use Twitter lists to great effect to get the content you describe (plus some ifttt email /RSS aggregating recipes on there as well).
My critique was also on the industry itself, and you’re right, if you’re not paying you’re the product.
I pay for both an email service which isn’t mined for ad revenue and an RSS platform which is standalone & enables me to curate from a massive array of sources, plus have installed extensions which block cookies / tracking services from my usual browsing habits. Then again, maybe I’m not the average bear ;-)