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The Age of Conversation--A New Book (Hardcover, Paper and E-Book) For The World Of Social Media.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 16, 2007

A professor I had at the University of Michigan, Robert Putnam, wrote a famous book in 2000 called Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival of American Community, in which he decried the decline of civic organizations in American society. He argued that individual anomie was replacing the ties that knit us together as a society. Little did he know that social media would soon begin to tie us together digitally in ways that we are only just now beginning to understand.

That’s why a new book called The Age of Conversation may be important to comprehending what’s going on in our society, economy and even polity today. There are a hundred writers—yes 100—who contributed. David Armano at Logic + Emotion is one of them and he has an interested essay. David compares the meltdown of today’s business models and the rise of a renaissance type person who can blog, podcase, navigate virtual worlds—all in the quest for social interraction, connection and conversation—to the era of the Black Death, when civilization collapsed and people were forced back to elemental forms of communication. A very interesting image.

The book’s authors are mostly in marketing and mostly participate actively in what they are talking about—social networking. You can download the book. You can comment on it. You can interract with the array of writers as well. So these folks are doing social media as they do its analysis. I’m going to be reading their essays over the next couple of days and commenting on it.

I do have one thought before delving into The Age of Conversation and it is this—are we talking too much? Are we spending too much time on our blogs, facebook pages, second life avatars, friends, relatives, colleagues, whomever? Are we procrastinating? Are we navel gazing at the process of social media rather than using the process to get at something really important?

David, what do you think?

Reader Comments

David Armano

July 17, 2007 5:42 AM

"Are we navel gazing at the process of social media rather than using the process to get at something really important?"

Bruce, I'm going to quote a very sophisticated source to help answer your question...

"with great power comes great responsibility"
~Uncle Ben from Spiderman

Absolutely social media bears the risk of overloading us. Over stimulation. Anxiety. The pressure to "keep up" with the new. Vanity. Self absorption. Over the past several weeks, we've seen even the most entrenched experts in social media begin to buckle under the pressure to "keep up". Yes—there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing" in this world.

This is where we have to choose and show some restraint. Just as we don't respond to each e-mail and instant message, participants in social media will learn to exercise restraint and ironically some level of control "or self control" over how they use the medium.

Point in case, it's late here in Chicago. I should be getting to bed and I could go on and on about this—but suffice it to say that we must have some level of control of the social tools we use vs. them controlling us.

The Age of Conversation ended up in an interesting book and I anticipate a decent amount of funds going to a very good cause. I came out of it a slightly better writer and thanks to the editors deciding to make a contribution to society, we all come out as better people. Even if it's just a little bit.

I guess like everything in life, it's a double edged sword. And it all depends how we use it.

Good night. :-)

Toby Bloomberg

July 17, 2007 6:15 AM

Bruce - As one of the contributors to Age of Conversation, thank you for your kind words about this important project. To answer your navel gazing question - perhaps some people have taken an extra long drink of the kool-aid. However, it's part of a learning and exploration process as we discover how we can leverage this new communication process to get to as you put it, " .. to something really important."

AoC is one example. There are others from HSS's Pandemic Flue Leadership Blog to nonprofit fund raisers and organizations using social media to create stronger relationships with their communities.

Luc Debaisieux

July 17, 2007 8:31 AM

Hello Bruce,

I just read your article on the Age of Conversation. As one of the authors, I wanted to send you a feedback.

I think your question raises an important point of interest. The time spent online could indeed be spent on exploring new technologies and so it could be both fascinating at first sight and overwhelming. Many stop their analysis there. Either because they get "lost trying" or because they are scared and would rather "avoid trying".

I believe that the tools all converge in providing new ways for people to interconnect and to share, merge, grow ideas (and values!). That's what engaging conversation is all about.

I see the "Age of Conversation" like the time of "shared CONSCIOUSNESS". It is the link between separated ideas in time and space and linked ideas. It is just an essential step, learning to interact with linked people, brains, talents from all over the planet in a new way. The next step being the CONVERGENCE towards ACTIONS, projects, goals, greater things IN REAL LIFE, now possible with this new type of communication.

The E-book is a first little example of its own. 100 authors spread on the planet, focusing on 1 shared idea, becoming 1 E-book, benefits to a good cause.

Kind Regards.

Valeria Maltoni

July 17, 2007 10:55 AM


Very good questions I ask often myself. To me part of communication is listening -- a large part of it. And networking/social networks are an outcome of projects, actions, physical connections that inspire us to do things. The Age of Conversation was such a project. It's not the only one; it won't be the last. Ironic, given the name of my blog... I prefer to leap off the page as soon as possible and help people do, make, execute on ideas.

Steve Woodruff

July 17, 2007 11:48 AM


As one of the authors in The Age of Conversation, I think you raise a very valuable and provocative question. We are now getting used to using these (very cool) tools, and getting to know one another - valuable things in and of themselves. But now that we've got all that in place, what are we going to do with it? How will we create marketplace value and generate new business? What new business/collaboration models will emerge? Twelve of us are exploring that with, but all of this is just the beginning - I think there is potential for a major "flattening" of work structures and efficient approaches to task accomplishment as work can now be load-balanced and talent-balanced through a distributed network of people.

Robert Hruzek

July 17, 2007 11:52 AM

Ah, the old "durned if you do, and durned if you don't" argument - nice to see it's still alive and well!

David, there is no doubt both too much, and not enough talking going on. Certainly there are those who spend way too much time taking in and assimilating ideas, and not enough time applying them to the real world. Sortof the human version of the dead sea.

But it is in the profusion of talkers that we find the best ideas: those really worth pursuing. This is where the "wisdom of crowds" demonstrates the potential, at least, of truly shining through to illuminate solutions we as individuals may never have thought of.

Too much talk? Not hardly!

Lori Magno

July 17, 2007 1:14 PM


As always you bring a unique perspective to the topic at hand. In this case the "talking about" The Age of Conversation equated action.

The initial question on Drew McLellan's blog turned into a discussion, which turned into a suggestion - which has resulted in a book. We are "talking about talking", but now you have 103 authors speaking across the globe. That's social + media with the invitation for others to join the conversation. We used "the process" of social media, and continue to check out its many forms, but this is not a closed circle.

I'd say that's a step up from navel gazing.

G. Kofi Annan

July 17, 2007 2:27 PM

I think the question is a very valid one, especially for many of us living in areas where access to new technology is easy. But speaking from my conversations with those in developing parts of the world, what we take for granted is a godsend for many others.

Particularly in Africa where dsl and T1 connections are not so common, I've often seen how social media and mobile techology is allowing people who may not ever leave their town or country, to engage others who are more active. As many of us explore these technologies out of curiosity, many others are using these same technologies to organize in real life. I think the technological advances we are all taking advantage of is most important to those who wouldn't otherwise get their story heard.

Mack Collier

July 17, 2007 2:29 PM

David thanks so much for mentioning The Age of Conversation. This is a wonderful project that will not only help get companies and individuals up to speed on the potential of social media and other forms of 'new marketing', but in the process, it also helps better and save the lives of children around the world. A win-win for everyone, and that's why I jumped at the chance to be involved.

As for your question, are we spending too much time with these tools....I think we are probably spending too much time hyping these tools. Last summer we heard that we had to be on MySpace. Then earlier this year we heard that if we weren't using Twitter, that we were going to be left behind. Just this week, a major blogger posted that if we didn't join Facebook, that our career was done.

I think over time, you'll see a bit of a shakeout in the social media space, and hype will give way to utility. We'll stop jumping from whatever the 'hot' site/service of the month is, and settle in on using the tools that give us the best bang for our buck. Then we'll begin to understand these tools and their potential.

Case in point, I am just now seeing companies begin to 'get' blogging. Almost every time I mention a company in one of my blog posts, a representative from that company will either leave a comment, or email me to followup. That NEVER happened last summer, but it's commonplace now, as some of blogging's heavyweights are talking about how blogs are slowing down.

Thanks again for the post, David!

Bruce Nussbaum

July 17, 2007 3:17 PM

You are absolutely right.

Shaping Youth

July 17, 2007 3:23 PM

I don't think it's about too much talk, as much as it is not enough ACTION. As Saul Bellow said in Henderson the Rain King, "there are do-ers and there are be-ers." I prefer we 'get at' some of the bigger issues through dialogue and then ACT upon them via media mobilization and meaningful, (even problem-solving!) conversations.

The internet's fabulous for exploring creativity, testing theories, gaining rapport through blogging and 'building a better mousetrap' online, but then DO something productive to take that conversation into the 'real world' where it counts.

Some of those conversations need to shift offline too, back into hikes in nature and time with family instead of everyone pinging around in their own digital worlds. We can't passionately embrace what we don't know firsthand.

All in all, seems the internet has opened disparate views with enthusiastic conversation, as thought leaders emerge with a more global perspective prompting dogmatic incivility to slowly melt away.

There's powerful potential to use this social media and take the conversation to a more sophisticated level of meaning, Shaping Youth in positive ways for a healthier, more serene planet for us all.

Becky Carroll

July 17, 2007 6:10 PM

Thank you for making us think about our actions, Bruce. From a customer perspective, do they care about all this "talk" in social media? I believe they do if they can engage with us in a real conversation.

This medium allows us to get beyond the one-way marketing that has dominated business thinking for too long. It opens up a two-way communication channel with our customers, constituents, and members.

We just have to remember to listen and respond.

Mack Collier

July 17, 2007 8:17 PM

Apologies Bruce, I got you and David confused again. At least I didn't call you Bruce Armano, that would have been unforgivable ;)

Bruce Nussbaum

July 18, 2007 1:17 PM

Not to worry. I kinda knew you were addressing me. And thanks for you key points. We're having a great discussion about the discussion here.

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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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