My boss gave me some good advice today. Don’t push so far ahead of things that it makes you irrelevant.
Very true. It’s the same wisdom we teach our journalism students. A lot of them, especially the college grads, show up with a lexicon of words and fancy literary tricks. Even if they are correctly used (that’s an “if”), a lot of times the alluded-to humor or historical references are too far above most peoples’ heads to be of any use. Students argue with their instructors all the time about how they feel journalistic style is “dumbed down” or too simple. Some even think it’s our duty as literary types to raise the bar of average literary levels.
And of course we, the ever patient instructors, nod, put our hands on their shoulders and lament the state of American reading levels. Then we insist on our original “make it simple” edits.
The same is true for social media. A lot of people in the social media sphere/universe/whatever pride themselves on getting it. They are in the know. They have the pulse of communication. And it’s terribly exciting to harness the power of changed communication–to be the harbingers of revolution and burn the status quo. But unfortunately, I can see how arrogant that can make social media proponents like myself. Moreover, as there is a push to move beyond social media, we can further confuse those struggling to keep pace. What good is poetry to a person who can’t read? Aren’t the nuances of Shakespeare lost on someone just beginning to learn English? It’s true that those who advocate social media trends, jargon and practices should take care to not push too far forward, too quickly.
We can keep counsel with ourselves–establish thinking groups and work in new areas, sure. But we should always be diligent in empowering those around us. There was a civilian gentleman who presented at the Marine’s public affairs symposium down in Hampton, Va., yesterday. He and I chatted about how surprised we were that it has taken this long to get most people on just the basic levels of social media. And, I admit, every time I run across a new group of people who laugh about being social media infants, I do have the urge to roll my eyes, get frustrated and say “Get with it, keep up!” But what good is that? What good is a steak, however well cooked (or not), to a newborn? If the crowd we social media zealots are in need more basic modules of instruction, far be it for us to see ourselves as too elite to be bothered.
Teachers learn patience. They learn to teach the same skills to new people, constantly. They shouldn’t lament the never-ending procession of 5th graders who need to learn state capitals. They shouldn’t be angered when a student needs the same special instruction that hundreds of students before him did. Likewise, those that teach social media shouldn’t be too in love with themselves that they “can’t be bothered” with teaching the basics or working with new groups on ground already covered.
Granted it is discouraging on one hand to still be mired in teaching 101 even after this long. Sometimes it does seem that the world will never get it–that we’ll spend so long continuing to argue “if” we should instead of “how” that we’ll miss the boat. But we have to temper our itch for innovation with the wisdom of restraint. When journalism students come to interview me for their assignments, they always ask for me to spell my name. Sometimes, I want to say, “Look it up. Don’t bother me with that.” But they’re just learning. We all don’t know what we don’t know. It’s unfair to come down on someone for mistakes we all made.
As you might know from my last post, I was scheduled to spend some time with the fine folks at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium these last few weeks. Due to the hotel situation, my lack of cell phone coverage, and the quirky copyright and IT policies at the NATO military headquarters, I was without all but the most austere personal Internet services for the two weeks. I was off the grid.
A couple of people jokingly asked if I went through any withdrawal symptoms sans Twitter or Facebook. Strangely, no. I think I’m reaching the point of overexposure to social media where I see it as a work thing. I don’t live to tweet, as it were. I don’t thirst for comments and admiration to pour on me through the bloggosphere. It’s how I “keeps it real,” I suppose–I can take it or leave it.
Now that’s not to say I’m not a zealot when it comes to advocating social media use. I’m a firebrand of passion and conviction, but the edge wears on a person after a few months–especially when teaching the same pitches.
The trip to Europe was great. The people at SHAPE were very welcoming and open to learning about social media. I very much enjoyed my time there and hope to keep those new relationships going. It’s always cool to see new sparks of creativity and empowerment when it comes to social media. But did I lament my time in the personal wilderness of disconnection? No, I was very at ease.
Because I had the company of real people. I still greatly prefer that. I’m not so under the influence of the one ring of technology that I skulk into the cavernous basements, away from light, to hold fast to my “precious” social media. I love conversation with women, especially (sorry dudes). Smiles, laughs, all of that is better than a retweet any day.
So I guess this post is my confession that I’m not a pure-bred social media-ite. I can actually live some days without tweeting the world my lunch preferences. (To be fair, I could not stay nearly as informed as I might be without my hard-tweeting tweeps passing along valuable articles and policies. To them I am eternally grateful! For the sake of literary flair, though, I’m taking the aloof position of indifference). If the EMPs were to go off and the world reduced to the crackling radio static of ambient galactic silence, I’d persevere. I’d know my friends. I’d know how to research topics. I’d be all good.
Which serves to pad me against social media failures. When returning home to the states and heading into the Defense Information School to rejoin my compatriots, I saw that the workplace wiki is still floundering. No one is using it. For all the good or bad design, well or not well researched needs and capabilities of the tool, no one cares. They seem indifferent. This is probably because the tools that I advocate, both the wiki and the social bookmarking group, don’t hold any innate value for people. I’m not angry, or frustrated, or offended in the least–if the shoe doesn’t fit the shoe doesn’t fit. I’m fine, personally, about the possibility that DINFOS does not want social media–that the workplace culture is too ingrained with email and how things currently operate, that times aren’t ready for change. I’m fine with that.
And I’m not waiting to give some sort of “Just you wait, you’ll be sorry” sort of parting shot. No. I’m strangely fine with all of the efforts here potentially rolling back and being completely for naught. Why? Because I myself have grown. I have seen the multitude of companies and organizations who want/need these sorts of changes. They are the ones who ask me to travel the world over to give them some moments of social media knowledge–from me or whomever, but social media know-how nonetheless. It’s cool to be in great demand, even if not as much where I live. Belgium over Maryland? Ok.
My project champion is even losing a bit of faith. He’s ready to throw his hands up on our workplace wiki experiment. With the wiki, our department can save $37,000/year just in printing costs, and hundreds of man hours of searching through email. All that, and it’s search-able, easier to find info, blah blah blah…but no one is using it, so it’s all a m00t point. Beta was a better format than VHS, yet it died. CBS was a better color standard than NBC, but politics edged CBS out.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, there is no tree.
So we’ll see how things go. I have one more idea that I hope might spark some interest. We’ll see how things go. I do hope it takes off, but again, if not, I’m fine. Mom still loves me. The baby Jesus still loves me. I’m good.