There’s an article on on ABS/CBN news site (Do social networks like Twitter belong in media?) discussing, among other things, the business models of social media, if it’s possible to monetize Twitter, and whether or not Murdoch will invest in Twitter after MySpace. About 3/4 of the way down the article is a statement that shows me how hard it is for people to let loose of their current models of how the world works and why so many companies and people are having a hard time taking advantage of social networking technologies. The author writes: “What is also unclear is whether social networks belong under the roof of Internet companies or traditional media.” Why is it that we insist on putting something firmly in an existing category? Why must social networks be under one roof or the other?
Partly it’s because that’s how brains work. We process new information by sticking it to something similar in our “brain bank” of stuff so we can decide what it is–or even remember it at all. We do that with all kinds of things based on our experience. Call it classification, call it stereotyping. They are the same. It is the process of trying to understand new information in the context of old information. It isn’t a moral failing, it’s a biological constraint. If we weren’t able to do that, we’d never make it out of the house in the morning for having to figure so much stuff out. And we get really nervous if we can’t stick things somewhere, so we put new information, new experiences, and stuff we don’t understand firmly into the closest bucket. And that’s the problem, because once in a bucket, it’s really hard to get it out. And to make matters worse, this new bucket entry serves as a place to stick other stuff that kind of matches it, and they become equally as questionnably filed away. When it comes to technology, this constrains us, not helps us.
Hello? Did anybody watch the CNN coverage of Michael Jackson’s Memorial streaming across Facebook while people texted their experience in Twitters? It’s time to wrench our old metaphors about media technologies out of the old media vs. new media model. The boundaries are going away. Making judgments based on out of date metaphors makes bad decisions. It is true no matter what arena you’re operating in–business, socially, politically, interpersonally or scientifically.