When I sat down to read Friends, Followers and the Future by Rory O’Connor, I thought I knew what to expect. This is how I earn my living- by advising others on how best to integrate social media into their lives and work. The world that is social media is at best a microcosm of the world at large and at worst a poor substitute for the offline world, and I figured that it would be easy to read this book, digest it into manageable pieces and write this intro for today’s book salon.
I was wrong.
Rory O’Connor takes a microscope to how social media has affected this world and shined a light on some of the ways in which social media has improved our lives and some of the ways in which it has made life more complicated.
Starting with an overview of the Arab Spring and the American Autumn, fondly known as Occupy Wall Street, Rory takes the reader thru an analysis of the power of the Internet, specifically social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Following the theme of social media as empowerment for the people, a theme I often discuss when relating the importance of social media in the political process, Rory then delves into the effects social media is having on legacy news media.
Curation- how does the news get filtered from the newsmakers to the news consumers? Rory provides an in-depth analysis of how we’ve gone from being dependent on the broadcast news entities to being independent by relying on our own skills of curation via social media. How trustworthy are our skills of curation? Thru an examination of Twitter as a news source he demonstrates that sometimes our online sources are extremely trustworthy and sometimes not so good, witness the reports of Michael Jackson’s death vs. the reports after the mass shooting in Tucson which injured Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The ever evolving tightwire act of watching legacy media reinvent themselves in an online world isn’t without a small dose of humor and a large dose of humility. The legacy media companies that successfully embrace the social web will survive, while the others will slowly die on the vine as these chapters in the book demonstrate in an easy to relate to manner.
Privacy- what role does privacy play in the social web? The other overarching theme that caught my attention was the downward spiral that has become privacy in the social web world. Facebook is held up as the prime example of how the social platforms have slowly but surely eroded our standards of privacy. Complete with a total lack of transparency and a feel of predator vs. prey as Facebook constantly changes how they handle privacy issues and expect the general public to go along just to get along, the social web has single-handedly redefined our standards of privacy. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. It would be good if these platforms allowed us more control over that privacy, but they don’t and the results have been an erosion of trust between brands we’ve long idolized like Google and ourselves. In fact, I go a step further and posit that it seems these brands don’t trust us and think they have to spoonfeed us what they think we want. This only causes us to rebel even more.
Power- How does the social web affect the distribution of power? In my experience, the real power of the social web is the way it has re-empowered the people’s voice and no where is that more evident than in the political realm. The social web has not only given people a microphone that is public, but it has also allowed the people to band together without regard for geographic barriers in a way that our elected officials are just starting to understand and engage. In Friends, Followers and the Future Rory O’Connor draws on the 2004 and 2008 elections to demonstrate how the power of the voice provided by the social web has been embraced by presidential candidates and massaged to create political movements that propelled social media into the mainstream lexicon.
I could go on for hours and hours with my take on the important themes discussed in this book, but we’re really here for all of us to have a dialogue with Rory and with each other about the impact social media is having on our lives. Please join us in the comments for the next two hours as we explore Friends, Followers and the Future.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]