Sunday, July 25, 2004

Report from the BlogOn 2004 Conference: The Dark Side of Social Media

The 2nd panel at the BlogOn 2004 Conference was supposed to cover "the Dark Side", but it didn't even scratch the surface.

What it did cover was the dark side of doing business in general, especially now that the Internet is ubiquitous.

A lawyer talked about intellectual property and copyright issues.

A P.R. person talked about managing corporate identity, brand and information dissemination in the viral, Internet age (and amused me for an entirely different reason you can read about here.

A social networking exec talked about identity authentication.

A doctoral student seemed like somewhere in there she could talk about the kind of dark side I was expecting to hear about, but frankly I was having an attention span problem and kept getting lost in her academic verbiage.

No one asked, but here's the dark side I see:

1. The devaluing of human interaction and real relationship building
Just look at Dr. Spohrer's comment from the last panel.

Are we losing sight of the tools you can only learn and use when actually with a person: reading body language, clarifying intention and meaning immediately, getting a sense of what makes a person tick and what turns them off.

Am I the only one who has seen email trails get out of control, because it's harder to interpret tone in an email?
Am I the only one who first thinks to work and refer people I actually know, not virtually know?
Am I the only one who has observed people willing to leave behind a better deal because they'd rather deal with the people at a different company?

They say people are more truthful in email because there's a paper trail, and I believe it when it comes to stating facts. But when it comes to revealing one's buttons, good or bad, I don't believe it. People pretend.

2. The degradation of civility in our society

Am I the only one who has observed people say things in email that they would NEVER think of saying in a meeting, or even one-on-one, if it was in person? We can pretend this is just honesty or "bluntness", but I see people cross the line all the time, whether it's because they're in a rush, and don't read their message through, or whether they make a choice to be uncivil and feel they can because it's only electronic correspondence.

All I know is that when someone goes out of their way and does the "old-fashioned" thing, writing a thank-you note by hand for example, people really appreciate it.

3. A more isolated and less connected society

Right now it's a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I'm downstairs blogging on the conference, while my S.O. is upstairs IRC'ing with some other engineers. And right now I'm sure we're both happy in our respective corners, doing our own thing, so that's fine. But I'm just thinking that all of these online tools are providing lots of ways to be isolated from people, no matter how many you're communicating with out in the Internet world. And I think there are probably many who spend too much time in that world to the detriment of hands-on (pun intended I suppose) relationships.

4. The work ethic or skills of the younger generation

I have to ask: is this always on, constantly multi-tasking mentality breeding a good work force?

IM is really distracting, frankly. I never used it much until I left the traditional corporate world. The I started IM'ing with some folks at my old company who used to work for and with me. And I started this why some things seemed to take too long?

The youth culture that danah boyd, the doctoral student, described, seemed not very conducive to focus or to drilling deeply into a task. Maybe I'm just an old fogey at 40, but I'm kind of concerned.

Anyway, those were my thoughts during the 2nd panel of the day, and those are my thought on what the "real" dark side of social media is!

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