One of the sessions at Podcamp Western Mass a few weeks ago was about social media and education. It was an open discussion hitting a lot of different points, and I found myself approaching it from a contrarian viewpoint that ultimately led me to start considering the idea of the socially constructed digital native.
One of the first people to speak was a college student, who was studying social media, and was frustrated that the courses focused on technical basics of using one social media platform or another, without getting into more important topics like search engine optimization. There was a discussion about how much social media is changing and how some of the social media tools that were discussed may not last more than a couple more years.
Personally, while I recognize some value of search engine optimization, I tend to view much of it as snake oil. I suggested that what is really needed is focusing on skills like understanding the audience and storytelling, because these skills matter, no matter what media is being used.
Others talked about cyber safety issues for kids or social skills like making eye contact, or giving someone your undivided attention. I trotted out Marc Prensky’s idea of the digital native and the digital immigrant and pushed the concept a little further. How much of the ideas that people were talking about were ideas from digital immigrants and how digital natives should live in a digital world?
Are kids without access to social media today viewed the way kids without television were viewed and treated forty years ago? Do we, or should we, value continuous partial attention? How much are these expectations socially constructed? And to the extent that they are socially constructed, how much are digital immigrants trying to maintain old world, analog ways of interacting in a digital world? How much are digital immigrants trying to get their digital native kids to behave as if they still live in the old analog world?
This is not to say that there isn’t value in certain old ways of interacting. The value of understanding your audience remains, whether it is a digital native audience, a digital immigrant audience, or some mixture.
Yet, perhaps, as we talk with people about how to behave digitally, we should take the opportunity to question which actions are really beneficial, as opposed to which actions are done, because that is the way things were always done in the old analog world. Perhaps, instead of prescribing behavior, we should be teaching students how to understand social constructs, and generate new, more pertinent social constructs that can evolve with our evolving technology.
So far, it’s been following a fairly predictable and familiar pattern. One person heard about the new site and asked others about it. In this case, the person received a postcard and asked about it in a Facebook group.
The new site is Nextdoor. The about page describes them as
the private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. It's the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it's free.
Information was posted about it in a Facebook group focused on my local community. The responses were fairly predictable. One person wrote:
I've heard of it. A new start up. It's pretty much what this group already does. I for one don't need another social site to login to.
My response was to do research on the site and sign up. I later commented about this in the Facebook group. I referred to the Technology adoption lifecycle. I am an innovator/early adopter. I am the sort of person that, when I hear of something new, wants to go out and try it. According to the model, innovators/early adopters make up about 2.5% of the population.
With a population of around 9,000, this would put the number of innovator/early adopters in Woodbridge at about 225. It is worth noting that there are currently 230 members of the Woodbridge – Bethany Residents Forum. It would seem as if the forum still hasn’t crossed the chasm. Trying to attract people from this forum is likely to be challenging. So far, Nextdoor Woodbridge only has 25 members, and only seven have posted photos of themselves. It probably needs to at least double to reach critical mass.
When a new site comes along, those who are not innovators/early adopters start piling on about why it is going to fail. Given the success rates of startups, they are usually right, but when they are wrong, they are often spectacularly wrong. So, on Facebook, people are talking about why Nextdoor is going to fail. The argument typically ends up around what they already have is working fine and why would people want anything new. The standard story that fits in here is of companies missing the opportunity to get into the dry copying business because they didn’t understand the concept, or thought the market wouldn’t be big enough.
When a potential disruption comes along, some people don’t see the use cases for it, and figure it will not make it. Others go in and try to find unexpected use cases. It takes me back to the great old quote from George Bernard Shaw, “Some men see things as they are and say why - I dream things that never were and say why not.”
Back at the Facebook forum, “For those that have joined what is it that you can do there that you can't in this FB forum?” My response is, “not much”. For that matter, there’s not much on the Facebook forum that couldn’t be done at Woodbridge Gathering either.
Yet there are a few different things in Nextdoor that I find interesting. To get back to how the person mentioning it found out, Nextdoor gives uses the ability for users to send postcards to neighbors inviting them to join. This is something that has been used in political campaigns in the past, and has the potential to reach a different audience than Facebook.
This gets to a second thing that Nextdoor does that I find interesting. It has given me the ability to connect to a bunch of people that I don’t know in Woodbridge. Some people may feel that they know enough people in town. I always like to meet new people. Perhaps that too, is part of the innovator/early adopter mindset.
The site also provides a map, so you can contact people by their location. Again, this reminds me of some of the geomapping aspects of campaign sites.
Of course, this raises an issue. Members don’t want to be spammed. They way to know that the other members of their group are in fact from Woodbridge, or whatever neighborhood. Nextdoor provides verification functionality.
Will this be enough to gain critical mass, to make Nextdoor a success? It was listed in 43 of the best Android apps launched in 2013 by Next Web and it has already received $82 million in two funding rounds.
The questions remain, whether or not it will cross the chasm from the innovators and early adopters to the skeptical early majority, and whether or not it will become profitable. Or, will they have an exit strategy, like so many other startups, which includes cashing in before profitability.
It’s probably too early to say, but as an innovator/early adopter, I’ll play with Nextdoor as long as it keeps my interest.
Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook,
I'm confused... Is this going to make teenagers buy old spice? This is the strangest commercial I've ever seen....
I remember going to a digital advertising conference a few years ago in New York where one of the discussions was about Old Spice's success online.
Remembering some of the points from that, I added this comment to my friend's status update:
I think it is brilliant. One of the keys to Old Spice's advertising success has always been knowing its market. While other deodorant makers would have ads with sexy women trying to boost sales, Old Spice came to realize that it is women who buy the deodorant, not the men. (As an aside, Kim buys my deodorant. I didn't know what brand she buys, without walking into the bathroom and checking. It is Old Spice.
No, I don't think teens, or pre-teens will buy Old Spice because of that commercial, but I can think of a lot of moms, proud and frightened, and struggling with their little babies growing up and starting to need deodorant that will see that ad and it will resonate deep down in their core.
When they go shopping and pick up deodorant for their sons, they will think of that ad, perhaps smile, a bit wistfully, and pick up Old Spice for their baby boys who are now becoming men.
Know your audience, it may not always be what you think.
This evening, I sat down to my evening positive attitude adjustment, and found Howard Rheingold had shared on Facebook a link to Jason Feifer’s comments in Fast Company, GOOGLE MAKES YOU SMARTER, FACEBOOK MAKES YOU HAPPIER, SELFIES MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON
It was, in my opinion, a very well written response to Sherry Turkle’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, The Documented Life where she complains about Selfies.
My Initial reaction to Turkle’s piece was to write Sisyphus’ Selfie. I’ve been intending to write more on this, and I started to write a comment to Howard’s status. Yet as it grew, I thought I should really make it part of my blog post.
I started off:
I must say, as an active participant in LambdaMOO back in the mid 90s and a friend of many of the researchers and cyberanthropoligists that became involved there. I've always found Turkle to be a bit full of herself (and other stuff).
I read her Op-Ed and found that my opinion of her hasn't improved over the past 18 years. I've been meaning to write a blog post about her article, very similar to Feifer's, but perhaps from a slightly different angle.
This is where I decided to merge the comment into this blog post. One person suggested, why not just call Turkle a Luddite, and then went on to repeat various assertions of Turkle that are tangential to the article, claiming them to be facts.
I think Luddite is an overused word amongst technophiles and so I want to present a slightly different idea.
Marc Prensky, in his famous article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants presents the idea of people who have grown up in a digital culture as digital natives. Those who have moved into a digital culture, having grown up in a different culture are digital immigrants.
In my mind, this fits nicely with some of what Turkle talks about. Yes, growing up in a digital culture does change the way we think and act. Yet this also points to the biggest problem with what Turkle has to say.
She is looking at digital culture from the viewpoint of a digital immigrant. For example, her comment
We don’t experience interruptions as disruptions anymore. But they make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.
This sure sounds a lot to me like that old grandmother living in the immigrant community complaining about how people these days just don’t do things the way they used to in the old world, and how much better the old world was.
I pause to think a little more and glance at my daughter creating something in Mindcraft. She is a digital native. Me? Having been on the Internet for over thirty years, and on bulletin boards and programming computers long before this, I tend to think of myself as a digital pioneer, or perhaps a digital aborigine.
Yes, working with computers for all these years has changed my way of thinking. A critic might compare it to the way mercury changed the thinking of hatmakers, and my children might have other comments about having a Dad that has been online longer than they have.
Yet I relish my experiences with technology and I’m glad that my children are having even greater experiences with it. I love the camaraderie of other digital pioneers or digital aborigines.
Through my discussions with friends on Facebook, I’ve also found myself talking about Jacques Ellul, whether or not people need to learn to program, representations of transhumanism, The Power of Patience and Civil Religion and how it relates to prophetic religion, the social contract, the way we interact through digital media, and if there are implications for a Great Awakening.
And, for that matter, I let a young college student from Iran borrow my Google Glass this afternoon, so he could take a selfie of him wearing Google Glass, standing next to a robot.
Technology does change the way we think and act. There is much that needs to be discussed about it. I’m happy that Facebook has given me topics to Google and become smarter about. I’m just not sure that Turkle is really adding much of value to the conversation.
Sisyphus paused, his feet braced, his left arm extended against the boulder, holding off the inevitable. With his right hand he fished his smartphone out of his pocket and took a selfie.
The first selfie had been a challenge. His muscles were strong but sore. It was hard for him to hold the boulder in its place with just one hand. His friends mocked him. What was the purpose of the selfie? Why bother interrupt his routine?
But through practice, he became better at it. The selfies went from showing weary anguish to having a certain artistic flair, catching the angle of the setting sun just right. Once, he even managed to capture an image of an eagle flying away with Prometheus’ liver. Some of his friends started taking selfies as well and selfies became part of the routine. Push the boulder up the hill. Take a selfie. Watch the boulder roll back down.
Yet there was still something missing, that sense of repetition. So today, Sisyphus tried something different. He captured a brief video of the boulder careening down the crevasse.
The endless loop soon went viral.