"I am Facebook friends with Ryan Lanza" written by Matt Bors on Salon reveals the frantic mob mentality of our ever more connected digital globe (Ryan is the brother of the man accused of last weeks Connecticut school shootings):
"Social media purports to connect us but it often does the exact opposite. The barrier, the anonymity, the lack of accountability; all encourage the worst in people".
Writes Matt, who uses Facebook to promote his cartoon business but found himself sucked up into a crazy media maelstrom due to discovery of his Lanza connection, and with random Facebook users ' saying angry and bizarre things to me or about Ryan'. The piece is well worth reading.
'There's nowt as queer as folk' is an old northern English Yorkshire term meaning there's nothing stranger or more surprising than the way people behave (queer meaning peculiar; nowt is a contraction of 'nothing').
Although we're seeing the ways digitized networks interact starting to settle into consistent, predicable grooves as they age, (photo sharing is an obvious example) humans are an odd bunch and social tensions can be stronger online than in 'real' face to face life.
There are strong parallels to the historical criticism of television programming trivializing everything it touches in the mob mentality and knee jerk judgement so prevalent online today.
Social networking is virtually effortlessly active publishing where television content consumption is passive...although Twitter's strange commercial journey appears to currently place emphasis on blending real time digital peanut gallery discussions between TV viewers, along with broadcasted tweets from personalities.
The work rat race has very much moved into the digital realm, and mirroring offline life there are countless flavors of behaviors...although a dominant characteristic is the value placed on very extrovert, connected people. I thought Susan Cain's book 'Quiet: The power of introverts' published earlier this year made some good points despite the flawed logic of Cain embarking on high profile speaking tours and recording a kitschy TED talk to promote the book. (Lampooning pretentious TED talks has become wildly popular on The Onion satirical site this year, whether the brassy social media types or the coming-out-of-their-shell introverts).
Cain cleverly extended the easily digestible Clay Shirky 'Here Comes Everybody' power of self crowd organized crowds conceptual package by pointing out introverts are undervalued in US society, but have found a voice thanks to social media. She subtly skewers self help guru Tony Robins 'unleash the power within' schtick while eloquently arguing the importance and power of solitude and solo creative reflection.
We've clearly moved on considerably from the utopian collegial free form organization Shirky admired into an era of online opportunism and the superficial sensationalism we are all too familiar with from TV.
It's been the year of the business social software salesman, with much of the past successful but fragile experimentation using the current generation of collaborative software for specific businesses having been conceptually repackaged as aggressive general sales propositions promoting next gen business success.
With efforts to soft sell concepts of workforce 'adoption' based on the burgeoning popularity of individual social networking, and now the current software business promoters/analysts use of trivializing terms like 'enabling' enterprise collaboration largely failing to impress or have enough relevance to prospects, we are in an interesting evolutionary period where true collaborative value might be allowed to breathe.
Managing teams of people is all to often a pretty peculiar experience (There's nowt as queer as folk…) and the daily work life of most of the people who might be enticed to buy 'enabling' software reflects this. Above a certain level, executives have little insight into the sometimes schoolyard-like politics, cliques and rivalries in the ranks - the often bitchy back channels of Twitter are very similar to cliquey note passing in the classroom.
Management consultant and author Peter Drucker wrote (presumably about pre digital network era 1970's and 80's business executives)
“...The one and only personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or what it signifies.”
Since executive leadership enjoy undivided attention and focus from their underlings they live in a very different world to those fighting for clarity and efficiency in the main body of a company. Deep strategic thinkers are often quiet, even shy individuals who eschew the limelight, even if it forced upon them, and this is an increasing challenge in our noisy, claustrophobic digital age.
The vortex of unstable energy created by the circumstances of Matt Bors superficial digital connection with Ryan Lanza is an extreme example of the many ways digital networks can spin out of control at an individual level; lesser dramas play out every day between individuals inside companies as power is realigned.
Group dynamics involving tasks, roles, responsibilities and paychecks are fundamentally different to our individual social interactions, but the combination of participant 'keeping up with the Joneses' jealousies, career rivalries and countless other psychological pressures color the ways we work together online (or don't if user created content is a cause of alienation and rejection…).
Now that social networking is ubiquitous and taken for granted, much like telephones were over time, perhaps society will realize the value of individual digital privacy and data rights. Only when there is a high level of trust will people engage in more than superficial interactions and judgmental reactions online.