Relationships Are Becoming Virtual. Get Over it.

For at least two years, I’ve been hearing and reading about how social media is taking over our lives. It’s terrible. It’s revolutionary. We love it. We hate it. It needs to stop. We need to learn how to use it. What will we do when the bubble bursts?

It’s time to get over it. Social media is not a fad, although some of the particular websites that have been popular early on (such as MySpace) are struggling and may disappear. Like other electronic technology it will continue to evolve. But it’s not going away.

It’s time to stop arguing about if and start discussing the who, what, when, where, why and how of social media.

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Making Social Media Do Good

Last month I attended Social Media Week New York. As most of my career has been spent in non-profits, I registered for panels on non-profits, international development, and using social media for social good. There was a good deal of discussion about events happening in the Middle East, and opinions were divided on how much (or how little) social media like Facebook and Twitter were influencing the democracy movements.

Friday around noon I returned from an early lunch break for a panel discussion. Every venue (that I know of) had wi-fi, so after finding a good seat I cracked open my laptop to check e-mail and Twitter. Twitter was alive! Reports that Hosni Mubarak had resigned were lighting up my timeline, so I switched briefly to my News list, which was also crazy. But this is a new medium, and the contradictory reports of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in January had shown me that misinformation can propagate just as easily as reliable information. So I quickly looked at the websites of the New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera English. All of them reported Mubarak’s resignation, so I accepted it as true.

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Under the Influence

I have always liked old buildings. On vacations I usually seek out old house museums. My home is almost a century old (the original part, anyway, which is only two rooms). I love that high-tech companies are putting their offices into old lofts and industrial buildings. So when I learned that Christopher Gray, who writes about architectural history for the New York Times, was speaking at a local historic preservation organization, I went.

After Gray’s talk I got into a conversation with a woman who is a regular member of the group. She said it was nice to see a “young person” like me (this was several years ago; I was still in my 30s) attending an event in person. It seemed to her that many young people spent too much time with “this new Internet thing.” Then she asked how I’d heard about the event.

“I read about it on the society’s website.” Her face fell.

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Is Twitter a Virtual Soap Box or Town Hall?

I was one of those who delayed joining Twitter because I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about. 140 characters? That’s not enough to say anything, is it? After all, I’d sometimes found the 2,000 character limit of a Blackberry e-mail message restrictive—and I had not embraced IM or text messaging as anything except a quick way to exchange a few words with colleagues when all else failed. (Emphasis on that part about “when all else failed.”)

Then I attended a presentation by Bonnie McEwan at the Foundation Center‘s New York library. She talked about various social media platforms, but it was her recommendation about Twitter that made me reconsider it. “It’s important to tweet what you are thinking, not what you are doing.” I mulled it over and a few days later I signed up for a Twitter account. (On the same day I registered this WordPress blog, because I knew there would be times when 140 characters wouldn’t be enough.)

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