Here Comes Everybody?

Posted by: Hanson Hosein

In our most recent class, we explored Clay Shirky’s powerful notion that social media has suddenly made the organization of people “ridiculously easy.”

We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.

Shirky says this has happened because digital media tools have essentially caused the transaction costs of grouping people together to collapse. This means we no longer need to rely exclusively on large institutions to engage in activities that normally would require groups of people (big business, the government).

This has a direct impact on traditional media, and most obviously, journalism. See for example, the most recent Democracy Papers op-ed in the Seattle Times, that argues for traditional media’s ongoing relevance, but does little to explain how this relevance can continue if the business model of journalism itself is dying (its murder, aided in great part, by the ability of people to freely create and share content).

But it’s not just “media.” Online group communication also has an incredible impact on how these new platforms could actually help reorganize all of our familiar institutions, from government to the church to big business. The goal of our Research Strategies and Methodologies in Digital Media will be to learn how to research (and discuss) this seismic change.

My students have already reacted strongly to our first session. Here are a few of their “one-minute” papers (quick thoughts jotted down at the conclusion of class)

* I was surprised to see a blog post by Steve Rubel the other day calling for the death of the term “social media.” His case: social media is now just media. It’s fully arrived and ubiquitous. I’m not so sure that’s the case. And I think it’s important for those of us discussing trends in digital media to remember that the majority of folks have no clue what we’re talking about.

* Why would the tragedy of the commons be any better in the digital media landscape? Isn’t the lesson about the nature of man, rather than the nature of the environment?

* In an age of instant blogging, cellphone video and a permanently connect populous (sic), are traditional research methodologies still valid in the media field. Why plan out a project when I can, start-to-finish it on blogspot.com in 2 hours, satisfying my micro-news-consuming audience for five minutes, while I’m working on my next post?

* My new theory is that the more people experience media, that is producing it, distributing it, the more they will demand of it, so the standards are just changing?

* When will big companies start relying on social media more holistically? social media is an efficient business marketing strategy, that if used and planned carefully, has high potential to provide penetrating advertising at a low cost.

* I still haven’t fully embraced the concept of social media as a groundbreaking new method for interaction. I’m considering researching its real effectiveness.

* Re: the shift from the 20th century mass-enterprise to loosely connected groups: can this be monetized in a way that replaces many jobs that are now disappearing?

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