Are We Communicating Too Much In This Age Of Social Media?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 17, 2007

The responses to my late-in-the-day howl at the moon from the authors of The Age Of Conversation are wonderful and invigorating. The truth is that most of the important intellectual conversations I’m having these days is taking place on the web through social media. I’d be lost without that contact. Even as I write this blog post, I’m being texted and texting one of the key Modernista designers of our Inside Innovation magazine (next issue is in six weeks) while listening to a vmail from one of our band of innovation and design folks working on this Thursday’s humongous online package on the International Design Excellence Awards from the IDSA. That’s all I can do in one sitting.

Yet, I don’t have a FaceBook page, don’t Twitter and don’t spend time with an avatar in Second Life—because it would be so time-consuming and overwhelming. Yet, if you don’t participate in the technology—and the community there—you don’t really get it. Argh…

Well, gotta make choices. And thanks to the authors of the Age of Conversation for setting out the context for those choices.

Reader Comments

Sean Howard

July 17, 2007 1:27 PM

Thanks so much for helping spread the AOC word, Bruce!

And thank god you don't twitter! It's like a disease!

That said, I'm coming to this post because of the damn thing. lol.

Tim Jackson

July 17, 2007 1:35 PM

Technology, as frightening as it can be to a non-tech person like me, is all about enabling engagement. I'm definitely a "people person", so all of this new stuff, though it keeps me from sleeping much (silver lining to the whole insomnia thing I guess), simply provides me with new and more effective ways to engage and interact. Sure, it isn't quite the same as walking into my customer's store or talking directly to a consumer, BUT I can talk to far more of them at once.

And for the record, even as a big proponent of social networking, I only just last night joined Facebook, thanks to the author group created for the co-authors of the book. It's been a great project and one that I hope people will enjoy reading as much as those of us who wrote it.

Lori Magno

July 17, 2007 1:38 PM

Bruce:

You have to check out the social media technologies so you can poo-poo it effectively.

I have a Second Life avatar, though I spend no time there. I was chided into checking it out by Paul McEnany who writes the Hee Haw Marketing blog in Dallas. I received a second chiding from Greg Verdino when I said "Eh, not for me." With limited free time, I didn't want to spend it in Second Life. I twitter a bit. I now have a Facebook spot (as part of The Age of Conversation project) - but these things don't run my life. I pondered the question earlier in the year at The Digital Hive blog: http://digitalhive.blogs.com/digiblog/2007/01/digital_life_v_.html

I'm not sure a balanced life exists, but I'm trying.

Gavin Heaton

July 17, 2007 1:43 PM

You seem to hit the nail on the head! The driving force behind social media is our own individual desire to connect. But there has been a shift -- our connections now need to be more personal or filtered through a personal network; we increasingly rely on the power of personal and social networks to assist us in making decisions (big and small); and while it may seem that we communicate "too much", the thing to remember is that the communication is invited. It is all opt-in.
Sure it is not for everyone. But every "one" out there, it is now easier to find a place to belong. The potential for brands and organisations to actually reach a participatory and active constituency has never been stronger. But the risks and challenges are also higher. Learning to navigate these waters is important -- but every single Age of Conversation author has valuable insight to offer -- it is a social network waiting and ready to be engaged.
Thanks for driving the conversation, Bruce!

Robert Hruzek

July 17, 2007 1:52 PM

NOW you get it!

David Berkowitz

July 17, 2007 2:51 PM

True, you have to make choices, and not everyone needs to participate in everything. Yet ultimately all of these online tools will largely be used to help us go about our lives however we care to go about them, rather than having some truly transformational impact. If you're a bowler, you'll post last night's scores to your online community so everyone there can laugh about Eddie's 92. If you're a parent, you'll get some new ideas for rainy day craft projects from a blogger's Twitter feed and then go back to playing with your kids. We'll really be able to appreciate all of it when the technology itself fades to the background, like the theme music in an epic film that sets the tone for it without calling too much attention to itself.

Georges de Wailly

July 17, 2007 3:10 PM

Are we in a age of conversation?
Well, it's technically easy to share information on the net. But, it's like being a spacecraft pilot travelling in deep space. An eventual answer to a post may take hours to days to come back. If it comes. And like a spacecraft pilot, the persons who have avatars on second life may be awfully alone. Of course, exchange information on subjects like design is highly interesting. But it's not all! Humans have invented tools in order to survive in an hostile environment. Now, they invent new tools to survive in the digital age. Is this age so hostile? Or do they simply protect themselves against supposed dangers?
My question would be to know if the excess of possibilities to communicate is not perceived as a threat?

Scott Monty

July 17, 2007 3:17 PM

As one of the authors of the AoC book, I'm inclined to take you to task for eschewing some of the main social networks. But you know what? There are a seemingly infinite variety of communities out there because there are an equally large number of interests. There is no one-size-fits-all
solution.

Facebook isn't right for you? Don't have time to Twitter? That's okay! YOU'RE doing what works for YOU and your own social network. These social media sites are useless if you don't have contacts in them. There's no sense in wasting your time in a friendless void.

Part of the fun of social media is connecting with writers and thinkers that you follow and using their networks as a springboard to discover interesting new content and fresh thinking. While not every connection you stumble upon will be right for you, the beauty of these Web 2.0 apps is that YOU get to decide what's relevant and what isn't.

My point is: for some, too much communication may be just about right; for others it may be too much. In the end, it's about individual freedom to make the decision.

Cam Beck

July 17, 2007 3:31 PM

I agree with Scott. It's all about economics. You have limited time and a limited budget. You must spend those resources in a way that seems to you best suited to provide you the knowledge you seek. If you've got the social media thing down, then this can be a very efficient method for you to use.

Dustin Jacobsen

July 17, 2007 5:01 PM

Bruce,

Thanks for opening up the conversation. I've always been a fan of open, transparent communications. Many organizations are hesitant to jump into social networking for this very same reason.

Economics, in regards to there are limited time and resources as others have mentioned, as well as value to both the user and community come in to play.

Matt Dickman, one of my fellow AOC contributing authors, had a great article titled "No value to the community = no value to you" (http://technomarketer.typepad.com/technomarketer/2007/07/no-value-to-the.html)
where he mentions the value of contributions to a community (from an advertisers perspective), but this holds true for personal investment as well.

Sure, Technorati is closing in on tracking 100 million blogs, but there are only a handful that I follow and participate with on an ongoing basis.

Just like the internet in general, there is an overload of information and growing exponentially, and we have to pick and choose the information we want.

I think what you will find is that most of us are looking for balance in this area: staying connected and up to date while still maintaining our focus on our respective areas of expertise.

Pete Mortensen

July 17, 2007 5:27 PM

Having made, at one time, a significant portion of my living as a professional blogger -- and being engaged to someone who is realizing her entire income in that arena -- I still find myself ambivalent toward the notion of the age of conversation. We still haven't found effective strategies for preventing fraud online between individuals, and the only sites where I ever see people using their real names a majority of the time are those where commenters hope to garner PR for themselves in the process (not that I'm innocent there, of course).

It's many nights in my household that both residents arrive home from work, eat a brief dinner and begin blogging until we both drop. This lifestyle is a challenge. The Age of Conversation is, perhaps, most effective when its parties are people without a large social network in the real world. Were I living back home in Michigan, I'm sure I would devote much more of my time to forging new connections with strangers online instead of wishing I could kill my WiFi connection for a few hours and just read a book.

Granted, this is a pattern that has repeated itself for decades, at least back to the era when radio was introduced. Every time we create new media, some people become addicted to them. I'm sure we could even find exhortations to stop our addiction to newspapers - "scandal sheets" - if we go back to the right time period.

The question becomes whether our media are becoming things that can only function when the rest of our lives are shaped around them. This, too, has precedence, as we have seen from the way that broadcasting schedules "enslaved" viewers to sacrifice their evenings to catch favored shows. But with social networks, with tools like Twitter, with blogging, I would argue, for many of us, that failure to update is a kind of death.

Staying connected and up-to-date means that I scan 500 article headlines in a day through my RSS reader rather than read the 10 that sound most interesting. If I go without, I fall down a hole of not knowing. If I go more than two days without blogging, I might vanish from the landscape. Is balance possible? Not if we are to take full advantage of the tools before us. Social media are the heartbeats of the current era. If the regular pulse of Twitter updates fades, the networks we create crumble.

I don't know if we have an answer to this dilemma yet. Maybe it just takes willpower and a recognition that we can't be all things to all people. But an awful lot of folks I know are putting off the important works of their lives because they have to blog the urgent ones. And that's not going to help any of us grow, either individually or as a society.

Bob Glaza

July 17, 2007 6:17 PM

Hi Bruce -
Quickly, to Pete...lets not go too far back on our addiction to newspapers :) - I have a mortgage to pay and cable bill! Its tough enough out here than to bring back the days of "Don't read the paper its costing you time" -

The way I look at it - and this is what conversation is built upon - each others views is that we all have 24 hours. Some spend it on Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, ie social media spots. Others not so much - got to take time for sleep and cycling. Don't forget vacation! Its a great time to be part of the media landscape.

C.B. Whittemore

July 17, 2007 6:25 PM

Bruce, thanks for extending the conversation around The Age of Conversation in such a rich manner. For all of us who enjoy reading your thoughts, I'm glad this is the choice you made! Like Tim Jackson, I only joined FaceBook this weekend because of The Age of Conversation. I'm finding it easier and better than I had anticipated... although good thing it links into email as otherwise I don't have time [!] to be checking it out. Oh, got to go post a photo of myself with the Age of Conversation cover on flickr.com! [actually that will have to wait as I am traveling and prefer to do some things from home].

Susan Bird

July 18, 2007 8:30 PM

As one of The Age of Conversation Authors, let me add to your provocative comments. At my company, Wf360, we think of on-line social networking media not only as a powerful on-line communications tool but also a platform from which to launch high-context, in-person communication. In other words, the right kind of on-line social networking can foster the gold standard of all communications: face to face connection with all the important people in our lives, whether family, friends or business colleagues.

Goes without saying that the when this opportunity to connect becomes a compulsion to be constantly connected, the result can disrupt one’s sleep, dinner with the family, or a relaxing afternoon with a book. It becomes way too much of a good thing.

But communication of all kinds forms the--yes, it's the best word for it--web that connects people to the people and things they value most. As the media for communication expand so, too, does our ability to forge connections in new and powerful ways. What we need to keep in mind is the ultimate goal: connecting in meaningful, potentially deep ways rather than superficial touchdowns with as many people as possible. We need to make sure we use the gift of technology to spend more time, not less, with friends, relatives, colleagues, be it on-line or off. Otherwise we lose the whole point.

Thanks for your keeping the conversation going...

Andrew Pass

July 18, 2007 10:26 PM

Bruce, Based on the previous comments, I get the sense that people here know one another. It's good to join the group. I don't think it's a matter of some forms of communication being silly while others are useful. It's simply different people prefer differnet tools. What we might be missing is a way to develop communication so two users can be on different tools and still communicate. Actually, I think that parts of that type of a tool exist as well.

RD (parsons)

July 19, 2007 1:45 AM

Hey Bruce---

Didn't think you'd see me again (remember I am the student who asked you about the controls for design methodology in business)... well I welcome you to read my chapter in the age of conversation book, #25 Rishi Desai, from the Parsons School of Design (are designers the enemy of design) speech.

Valeria Maltoni

July 20, 2007 1:55 AM

Facebook ain't face time -- look for my post tomorrow, Friday July 20. Thank you for joining the conversation, Bruce.

mblair

July 20, 2007 4:32 AM

Great question. I think right now because social media is exploding there is a natural tendency to try to do everything. It's not so different from people trying to go to all the new restaurants or nightclubs -- much of it is because people suspect that there might be something great that they are missing. We are in the Gold Rush days of social media and we should sit back and enjoy it -- I don't think it will always be quite like this.

Eventually, as with many things, the cream rises to the top. Several years ago there were numerous search engines out there, each with a slice. Now Google really dominates. Eventually I think a "Google" of social media will evolve (it may even end up being Google...) and it will be used by a critical mass of mainstream users.

There will be some niche alternatives too -- but I think the days might be numbered where people buzz around like bees from flower to flower, circling around to talk to 100 of the same people in 100 different places.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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