The First Law of Social Media

Here is the latest in the ongoing series about reinventing local media, “Local Media in a Postmodern World.”

Social media is foreign to traditional media, but it’s increasingly the playing field in the quest for eyeball attention among the citizens of the Web. We need to know the rules of the game here, because we risk irrelevance otherwise. This essay is called “The First Law of Social Media,” which is to respect the invitation you’ve been given. This is counterintuitive to most in the media world, because we’re so used to having a stage with everybody looking at us. We set the concert rules, not the concert-goers. But life on the Web is a different animal, and we must be prepared to learn and adopt new skills and new ways of thinking, if we’re going to be successful downstream.

The First Law of Social Media

Welcome to the 21st Century, Defense Minister

Robin Waulters has an excellent post over at TechCrunch this morning about the troubles of Belgian Minister of Defense Pieter De Crem, who ran into a blogger at a Belgian pub in New York on Monday. De Crem and several aides came to New York, even though the U.N. conference for which the trip was planned had been cancelled. He ended up getting completely soused at the pub.

Following his visit, bartender Nathalie Lubbe Bakker blogged about their visit (in Dutch), talking about how disgusted she was of how drunk De Crem was and how embarrased she was about his behavior. Worst part, she wrote, was the fact that one of the politician’s advisors admitted to her that the meetings they were there for on taxpayer’s money were in fact cancelled because the UN was meeting in Geneva (which is about 330 miles from Brussels). He reportedly told her they had decided to come to NY anyway despite being aware of the cancellation because the policital situation here was ‘calm’ and that he’d ‘never visited the city anyway’.

Somebody from De Crem’s office called the pub later and Bakker was fired, which didn’t go over very well with the Belgian blogosphere (and it shouldn’t go over very well here, either). De Crem then made a complete ass of himself in Parliament by playing the victim.

I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society. We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. Together with you, other Parliament members and the government I find that it’s nearly impossible to defend yourself against this. Everyone of you is a potential victim. I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about this.

The only thing De Crem is a victim of is his own arrogance. The guy got caught on a taxpayer-funded folly to New York, and that’s what he’s really angry about. “Without taking any responsibility?” How so? Bakker is the one who got fired, another martyr in the war of everyday people against the institutions of power. And I would argue that this is the role of the press, the institution of which wasn’t present at the time. Had someone with an official press card been there, I suspect the outcome would’ve been the same.

Except the reporter wouldn’t have gotten fired.

Thanksgiving in a time of fear and uncertainty

The first ThanksgivingTomorrow is Turkey Day and the beginning of the “most wonderful time of the year.” But this year, the economy’s in the tank; media company stocks (and company valuations) are bumping the bottom; and layoffs, buy-outs, and early retirements are everywhere. Uncertainty is the word of the day, which is actually a four-syllable word for fear.

The day after the holiday, many believe, will be telling. We’ll “learn” how consumers really feel based on what they spend. That news will propel us forward or cause us to slide deeper into the funk of 2008. That’s the way we are, or so the experts say. This is the “group think” of modernity. Study it. Categorize it. Label it. Shift it. Drive it. Manipulate it. And so it goes. Logic and reason can do no better, for they live within the world of the known. “If it exists, it can be measured,” is the first rule of science.

The brilliant mind of Kevin Kelly wrote about the origins of science a few weeks ago (The Origins of Progress, Anachronistic Science). If you want to expand your mind, read Kevin Kelly, for his is one of the most significant voices of contemporary culture. But Kelly uses science to try and answer a question about science that perplexes him: Why was science “discovered” in Western Civilization and not before? It’s a fascinating question, and one that is terribly important for us today, because we’re at the beginning of the post-modern, post-colonial era in the West.

I’ve been studying and writing about postmodernism for over ten years, and I see the conflicts of a culture in change everywhere. I actually prefer the term “postcolonial,” because, from a practical perspective, it fits better. Colonialism is a top-down, “teach a man to fish” philosophy ideally suited to the application of logic, reason and science. Where it runs into problems is when the top wants to maintain its position on top, but I digress.

The thing that Kelly refuses to acknowledge — as do most people of science — is the role of faith in the origins of science, and that brings me back to Thanksgiving 2008.

We’re in the midst of a second Gutenberg moment, in which knowledge (The Jewel of the Elites) is spreading throughout the globe like a giant mushroom cloud, and I would argue that this significantly will alter any future projections, just as the first Gutenberg moment did centuries ago.

As to why science came from Europe rather than China, I think it’s fair to point again to that first Gutenberg moment. Movable type was invented in both cultures at about the same time, but the difference is in what the printing press was used to create. The fundamentals of logic and science demand a degree of faith and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, and that came from the source of Western knowledge of the time: the Bible.

The only downside to science, is its tragic dismissal of that book and its place in history, for I believe it contains the source code for Western Civilization. When Wycliffe completed his common English language translation, he made this remarkable statement: “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people and for the people.” (Aside: Lincoln lifted that from Wycliffe, so the American Civics Literacy quiz got it wrong.) Wycliffe’s claim is as true today as it was back then, for democracy requires an internal governor, which the faith of the people provided. It may seem like it’s missing in our culture today, but I don’t believe it.

Finally, man wants to be God, and it’s always been that way. This quest is what fuels all progress. We want immortality. We want to overcome time and distance. We want omniscience and power. Nothing wrong with any of that, but I would love to see science actually acknowledge it some day.

So as we stare uncertainty in the face this Thanksgiving holiday, let’s ask ourselves this: Is our faith in ourselves, our government and our institutions to figure all this out, or do we believe, as our forefathers did, in something bigger moving us forward? For me, Life is in charge, and while I certainly believe our gifts and talents play a big cultural role, I’m most thankful that something bigger than me influences everything else.

Besides, gas is now $1.69 a gallon here in Dallas. That alone ought to give each of us pause, for who could’ve imagined it just six months ago?

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

A funny thing happened on my way to the NYT

So I’m clicking on a link to a New York Times article by David Pogue that trashes the new Blackberry Storm phone (Blackberry Storm Downgraded to a Depression), when I’m greeted first with the below interstitial ad.

ad for blackberry storm

Ah, the fun of contextual marketing on the Web.

From my RSS reader…

…comes the headline of the month:

Please Be True, Please Be True, Please Be True …

I love the Internet.

Those “portable electronic devices”

portable electronic devices aboard flight 695I was on a late flight from Raleigh to Dallas Thursday and walked to the rear of the plane to use the restroom and noticed something I’d not seen before. Perhaps it was the fact that it was dark in the cabin that made me notice, but 95 percent of the people on that flight were using what the airlines lovingly call “portable electronic devices.” The other five percent were asleep.

Laptops, DVD players, Gameboys, PSPs, PDAs, you name it. Everybody was entertaining themselves — or working — in the main cabin. I took a picture of the people near me to give you an idea of what it was like.

I fly a lot and have for years, and I’ve never noticed this before. The image from the rear of the cabin was truly amazing, and it speaks volumes about our culture. Our portable electronic devices are a permanent part of us today, and there’s a certain degree of discomfort that sets in when we’re separated from them. You only have to watch what happens when the flight attendant advises everybody that it’s time to put them away. What does one do, just sit there? OMFG, what a nightmare!

I’m in my seventh decade of existence on this planet, and of all the amazing things I’ve witnessed, portable computing is the most incredible. People who grow up with this will doubtless look back at my generation as archaic and old fashioned (“You mean you actually played with rocks and sticks?”), and I only hope that history credits our resisting enslavement to the institutions of the West for at least a part of the freedom they will enjoy.