Technology: How Social is "Social" Media?

Jonny Goldstein interviewed me back in August 2007 on his show Jonny's Par-Tay [link]. Looking at the countdown timer to the end of the show, around -18:00 he asks me "So... Did you feel a little lonely before you got into all the social media stuff?" to which my response was that I'm actually LESS social NOW than I was before...

Jonny's response was that it CAN lead to socializing, and he mentioned an instance of an IRL event, Vloggercue, hosted by Wreck and Salvage's Adam Quirk that he was going to attend BECAUSE of the people that he met and knew because of social media.

While I agree that it CAN... How often *DOES* social media lead to actual social inteaction, for YOU? My point was that I became less social instead of more social because of the fact that my friends are always at my fingertips. For the sake of this post, I'm defining "social" as actually going somewhere to hang out with friends of mine, IRL.

Frisbee Group, April 14 2007 by Bill Cammack

Everyone sitting at that table (Grace, Rachel, Charles, Obreahny, Sandra & Mike), I'm only *seconds* away from interacting with, via social media, wherever I am. Instant messaging, status updates, texting, email, sites, forums, groups. I did a shoot in Central Park with Obreahny and uploaded it to my server sitting out in Central Park, using the park's wireless access. I get footage from clients overseas via FTP, talk to them on skype or iChat and send them quicktime files for approval/changes. I watched a live stream of PodCamp Philly from NYC and appeared on-screen @ PodCamp Boston while I was sitting in a living room in Maryland.

There's no reason for me to physically go ANYWHERE unless physically interacting with that person is the reason I'm going. You can't go snowboarding together unless you actually go snowboarding. Other than that, the current state of communications enables you to be AS in-touch with someone as you want to be. I talk to my friend @CaliNative all day, every day. We're both MIT Graduates, but we live 3,000 miles apart from each other and never met each other IRL. Meanwhile, there are people that have given me business cards, right here in NYC, that I never spoke to again after that particular day that we met.

Social media allows you to define your enviroment. You can create and maintain relationships that transcend physical and territorial boundaries. You can hold 5 completely separate instant message conversations at a time, which is absolutely impossible on the phone. Does that make you MORE social?... or LESS social? Is "social" being re-defined by technology enabling us to envision new directions?

I also say I'm less social because my tolerance for idiocy has plummeted. :) I didn't have a lot of that to BEGIN with, but when you get to pick and choose the people you interact with on the basis of their intelligence, common sense and relevance relative to what YOU find interesting or important, it becomes really tough to tolerate people talking about 'nothing', or their own agenda which has nothing to do with what you find to be valuable in life.

Anil, Mike, Justin, Debbie, Grace, Bill, Kenyatta, Eric
Photo Credit: Jared Klett

So, yes. Social media DEFINITELY leads to situations where we all get together and have a good time, IRL. I think that more often, social media allows us to FEIGN getting together, which is actually *less* social than more so.

Bill Cammack • Cammack Media Group, LLC

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  • Mark Dykeman

    I would agree with some of the other commenters here that social media can definitely enhance or improve social interaction by helping strangers past the awkward icebreaker status. It also helps level the playing field for introverts.

    Bill, social media certainly can be a substitute for RL interaction and your RL "social life" will suffer if you spend more time in social media than with other people. However, I think that a big part of being social is communication. Social media can facilitate communication by removing some of the awkwardness between strangers and allowing a more direct communication of ideas to occur. You may still be lonely for physical contact, but you might connect mentally, emotionally, or spiritually on a deeper level.

  • Bill Cammack

    @Andre: I've had similar experiences with people who were involved way before me being extremely accessible, friendly and helpful. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to 'pass it on'.

    It makes sense that it would boost your self-confidence, because we're all used to the stars being in Hollywood. We're all used to watching things on television or in the movies, with ZERO access to the actors in shows or subjects of documentaries. In the world of social media, everyone has the same ability to say or post something that catches on, is passed around and really makes a difference in people's lives.

    It's got to be confidence-building when you're *heard* in your environment instead of being relegated to being a spectator with no voice or influence whatsoever.

  • Andre Blackman

    You're absolutely on point here Bill! I've found that social media has definitely "connected" me more but the real life aspects make me feel like I actually *interact* with those people.

    In the not so distant past, I felt people like Chris Brogan and other folks I've seen online who I thought were social media gurus, would be far from caring about what I have to say or even want to connect with me. I've found that these social media interactions normalize the people when they write back to you and whatnot. It's done wonders for my self confidence, if that makes any sense.

  • Bill Cammack

    @Jonny: I definitely agree that social media enhances our IRL hangouts, whether it's with people we already know or people we've never physically met before. I already know walking in the door whose startup got funded this week or what the topic of someone's video was this week and we can skip the minutiae and get right to the meaningful fellowship. :)

    Also, F2F is very important to really put the finishing touches on the image you have of someone from their online presence. You get to experience "the live show". :) No scripting. No edits. No fancy lighting or "MySpace Angles". No deadlines. No speaking to one's audience. You get to experience the essence of that person as they interact with you and others, and I think it really enhances your relationship to your 'online' friend. :)

    @Joe: Interesting to learn your feelings about "working a room". In NYC, you're ALWAYS working the room. In subway cars packed with people, at social events, walking down the street, doing whatever you do for business... There are so many of us here, and we all walk and take pubic transportation, so you really can't even step out the door without 'working the room'. NYC is 'on-the-job training' for that sort of thing ;) But, yes... social media makes room-working much easier, because you know who you're looking at, what you have in common and what you intend to talk to them about. I've gone to events where 30 people I knew IRL were on the 'definite' list. :O Sometimes, the non-stop interaction's actually overwhelming, and I need to remove myself from 'the scene'.

    The other thing that's good about social media is that it provides automatic checks and balances. When people that I respect hold others in high esteem, I'm willing to accept their character assessment as if it were my own. So, when Chris and you and Julia and Amanda and Steve talk about how great "Pistachio" is, I'm a fan of hers before she walks in the door, because I know that my friends are fine judges of quality. :)

  • Joe Cascio

    In my case, social media has enriched my RL social experience a lot. I have a whole new group of valued friends I never would have known before. For someone like myself who's not really comfortable "working a room" full of strangers, social media has been a boon, because it's a safe, low stress way to get to know people. Video, especially, gives you a very personal connection to someone. I think we've all had the experience of feeling like we know someone we've never met in person because we've seen them in video. For instance, you and I have never met in person, but I feel like I know you and would be very comfortable meeting you in RL, because of getting to know you online.
    Bryan Person (@Bryper) put it well in an invitation to a Tweetup (Twitter meetup) in Boston last December. He called it “The We-Don’t-Live-in-Our-Grandmothers’-Basements Bryper Tuesday Tweetup.“ And one of these days, I'm going to make it to NYC and buy you a beer at Burp Castle. :)

  • jonny goldstein

    Whoops, I meant "I do like the way that I can define MY social environment online." ;)

  • jonny Goldstein

    I think for working relationships, it's nice to actually meet the person I am working with, face to face, at least once or twice. I think actual face to face interaction helps solidify a relationship.

    But virtual connection is getting easier, especially w/live voice and video communications.

    I do like the way that I can define your social environment online---find people of like interests and so on. I definitely remember the old days when I would go to parties and social events where I really had nothing to say to the other people there. I would hang out for awhile and then slip out. Now it's easy to connect to people who I actually want to connect with.

    Maybe soon we'll connect wires up to our heads and live in little cocoons as we merge with the matrix. Need to improve bandwidth a bit before we make that happen.

  • Derek Williams

    Bill, you are correct - as per usual. I am not in the media, but I work in the IT world. I moved from Desktop support - touching 100's people machines to server support, touching 10's of servers serving 1000's of people, to enterprise support, touching 1000's of server serving millions of people.

    In the mean time, I moved from a large team of support people in one city, to a small team spanning a state, to team of of international people spanning different timezones, etc.

    I, like you, can't possible interact with the "people" I have influence over. So, exactly as you say:

    "social" as in "knowing more people" ==> YES
    "social" as in "touching/being with more people" ==> NO

    I think this has both positive and negative implications:

    Positive - you get to "communicate" with a finer grained selection of people in your personal enjoyment area.

    Negative - although you "know" more people than you ever have, you can still go home to an empty house, eat dinner alone, and sleep in an empty bed.

    If you were never extroverted all your life, the online social method is fabulous.

    But, if you ARE extroverted, it's enough to make forget the whole arena, and go live in the mountains of Colorado hunting, fishing, skiing, and "rassling" grizzly bears.