Author Day: Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking

On October 14th, 2009, I gave the first public talk about my book (ships May 7, 2010) at my publisher, Berrett-Koehler, as part of my Author Day with them. The following is the presentation I used, and the talk notes follow.

Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking
View more presentations from Deanna Zandt.

CRIB NOTES FROM THE TALK I GAVE:
(There were a number of amazing questions asked; I’m going to poll the attendees who asked them to resubmit them to me, and I’ll add them below.)

Welcome to Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking.

Before we start, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself– most of you have some inkling on how I do what I do. You may know me from such social networks as Twitter or Facebook, heh. But, just to put us all in the same place: I was born of geeks. While everyone was getting Ataris (you kids: that’s an old video game console) in 1982, [SLIDE 2] my parents brought home our first personal computer, a TI-99/4A. Combine that with a twitchy love of social interaction, an addiction to all kinds of media, and ever-evolving mild-to-radical lefty politics, and viola, here’s me.

Why did I write this book? Because Johanna told me to… No, really. Mostly it was because I’ve had this belief since the moment I stepped onto the Internet in 1994 that this thing was going to massively change the way we do *everything.* I have often been disappointed by the focus on the commerce obsession people have with the Internet, so as social tech has taken off, I’ve become even more excited. There are plenty of tomes and manifestos on how social technologies can market products, and how they can help nonprofits fundraise, or what have you, but there was a larger piece missing from the shelf: [SLIDE 3] the fact that by simply showing up, you all are helping to shift our cultural consciousness by infusing your values, your beliefs, your expertise and your experiences, all through the magic of sharing.

But serious change won’t happen on its own, and there are a bunch of hurdles that we’ve got to overcome — together! with all of us participating! — that require your presence and your brain. One of the biggest problems we’re presented with is the fact that right now, the Internet is in many ways serving to replicate and reinforce existing social structures. Boooooo. More about that in a minute, but the bottom line is that right now, even tho for example, there’s fairly equal numbers when it comes to gender participation on the Internet, who’s actually being heard is far from balanced.

A wee problematic, mais non?

Here’s the thing: [SLIDE 4] Creating a just society is sort of like the evolution of species. If you have a bunch of the same DNA mixing together, the species mutates poorly and eventually dies off. But bring in variety – new strains of DNA – and you create a stronger species. It’s no different in idea generation. You get a bunch of the same people talking to each other and making the rules for a few millennia, and eventually you’re going to end up with a lack of meaningful advancement.

What I’ve written in “Share This!” is first an introduction to what’s happening and why, and then is a blueprint for how each of us has the chance to radically redefine major structures in our society: what stories are told and by whom, which stories matter and are relevant to our lives, what authority means to us, who becomes influential.

WELCOME TO THE FRIGGIN’ FUTURE!!1!

So, I’m gonna take you on a little ride through some of the key points of Share This! Contrary to popular belief, this is actually not a tech book, by the way. Or at least not strictly so! And I’m going to talk here for a little bit, but leave lots of room at the end for questions about different things you’d like me to go more into after you’ve gotten the big picture.

[SLIDE 5]

The first thing we all need to understand is a little bit of how this works, and why it’s completely different than what we’re used to. The old way of doing things involved a fairly complex hierarchy, one that many of you are probably (painfully) familiar with. At the bottom of the food chain, there were the everyday people. You and me. In the middle, there is a conglomeration of folks with more influence and power — some journalists, mid-level politicians, sizeable business owners, as well as advocacy organizations and some labor unions. In the media subset, journalists are pressured and pitched by folks both above and below, and the stories that result (or don't) are not always fair or comprehensive. In the upper echelons, you'll find the bigger decision-makers and power brokers. High-level politicians, media moguls — pretty much anyone who can issue any kind of mandate. They're giving directives to the folks in the middle about what the folks at the bottom want to hear. It's like a giant pyramid with information traveling upwards, slowing to a trickle as it gets to the top. Then, because it's mostly a broadcast medium, it's released from the top, headed downwards, a constant, fast-moving flood.

[SLIDE 6] Now, about social networks. Social networks are not a new phenomenon,. leading to more connections with other people and other networks. We’ve always belonged to multiple spheres, but in the offline world, the piece that was missing was clear documentation or mapping of those relationships. More transparent to us, and to people around us. Information, to some degree, has been released from hierarchical constraints. This kind of thing puts word-of-mouth on steroids and speed. Rather than being about bottom-up or top-down, it’s much more a sort of 3D model of influence and sharing. The world isn’t flat; it’s deeper, more nuanced and textured than ever before.

The sharing of our experiences on social networks has this huge potential to give voice to people who have previously been left out of so many conversations. On the one hand, there is a pretty amazing phenomenon that happens when we share seemingly insignificant minutaie of our lives. [SLIDE 7] It’s not important for any of you to know what I had for breakfast this morning, I know that. Most people on the social networks know that. But when you look at all those events over time, what emerges is this picture of a person– Clive Thomspon likens it to a pointillist painting.

[SLIDE 8] He coined that perception of each other “ambient awareness.” We get a more robust, fuller picture of what our lives look like with lots of small events and thoughts making up that picture. We can now say, “This is what it’s authentically like to be a person in these shoes.”

[SLIDE 9] Then there’s the active, though also unintentional, version of consciousness raising through the sharing of our experiences. How many folks remember back in June when a country club pool banned African-American kids from swimming there, despite the fact that the kids’ camp had paid for their swimming privileges? Capturing the public’s tremendous shock and outrage, comedian Elon James White, host of the popular web series “This Week in Blackness,” opened an episode with the words: “Hi, I’m broadcasting live from 1952…”

When I heard about the incident, I signed petitions, I passed the info along on Twitter and Facebook, and I talked about it with my friends, both online and off. As the dialogue continued, people started to share stories on Twitter and Facebook about the first time they had been discriminated against. I read story after unfiltered, unedited story, written by friends. The stories were devastating; so was the fact that I hadn’t heard them before.

I realized that without social media, I probably never would have heard those stories. Or, I might have heard one of them, isolated from others. Being white, I have never experienced that kind of racism, and since many of my friends are white, they haven’t either. Prior to social media, I mostly likely wouldn’t have ended up in the company of a group of people of color sharing their childhood discrimination stories so openly and honestly.

To share that kind of intimacy requires some sort of explicit or assumed safe space–a forum of sorts, where one can express views without threat of abuse or harassment. That kind of space requires a tremendous amount of trust.

Safe spaces have traditionally been organized around identities and experiences–women’s groups, ethnicity-centric groups, queer groups, etc. While that will continue to be true–humans will always gravitate towards shared identities–within the space of social networking, there is a huge potential for overlap.

We’ll always look for people who are like us, but we’ll never be able to isolate ourselves completely from those who are different for us. Social media tools make it easier than ever to dip in and out of social circles. This is where the overlap can occur.

In the case of sharing stories of childhood discrimination, there was an assumed level of safety through the trust and empathy we had established with one another. I trusted the people I follow on Twitter, and in turn, they trusted me to listen.

I received an education that day. It’s one thing to read stories in the newspaper and get upset; it’s an entirely different, deeper experience to read friends and colleagues sharing intimate, painful moments in real time. It left me feeling not just more passionate about addressing racism, but more willing to hear what’s being said when I need to listen.

Change does not, and will not, happen in isolation or on an individual basis–we need each other to produce results. As we start to explore with social media, we have the potential to deepen our understanding of one another’s life experiences, and in turn, ourselves. Telling our stories in real, authentic ways becomes critical to moving others toward progress and change.

[SLIDE 10] However, there are multiple barriers to the cross-pollination that needs to happen. In Share This, I break them down like this:

– There’s the age-old access issue
– There’s a skill set issue once access is available
– Then there’s the self-segregation issue, often along class and racial lines.

There are plenty of good people working to solve those problems, but what does the everyday person using these technologies need to know and be active on?

[SLIDE 11]
– Organizations: You are not “reaching everyone.”
– Tyranny of structurelessness
– Beware of being “helpful” in the sense of “let me help you use this technology how I do,” versus a more preferable, “let’s figure out how we can create new conversations and usages together.”
– Be an ambassador.

Because here is the opportunity– when we’re all jumping into those giant petri dishes where our cultures, experiences and ideas overlap — we have the opportunity to radically change our notions of authority and who we consider influential.

Institutional versus organic authority. Sharing on social networking– establishing expertise, for example– provides us wide open for organic authority to flourish. AND TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

In the old scheme of things, where the universe is ruled basically to what amounts to jillions of top-ten lists, most of us — especially, non-white, non-male, non-rich folk — would have to do fairly extraordinairy things to find ourselves in higher positions in these hierarchies. Because influence and authority are changing, though, we have a huge chance to shift the centers of power all over the freakin’ place.

[SLIDE 12] But that won’t happen if you’re not participating. Change doesn’t happen without you. And if you’re already there, in it, swimming in it, you’re off to a good start– but there’s so much more to be done. We don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we’ll all certainly be doing everything we can to shape that future, drive those conversations through the sharing of our authentic experiences.

FINAL THOUGHT

Offering each other real pictures of real lives has the power to create trust. This trust leads us away from feelings of isolation and apathy that mass media and mainstream culture have fostered over the last hundred years. Our culture has blurred us all into demographics and target audiences, and we seemingly have less and less ability to engage ourselves, or plug ourselves into that culture in a meaningful way. Social networks give us the opportunity to reengage with one another.

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