GORDON SANITAIRE by Gordon Urquhart (XVII)

The Communications Revolution That Dare Not Speak Its Name


Three addresses always inspire confidence, even in tradesmen.

Lady Bracknell, in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde


Well, yes. Quite. Thank you, Oscar.

When Oscar Wilde wrote those words he could have had no idea how relevant they would be to social media in the twenty-first century. He couldn’t have known because there was no social media, until about five minutes ago anyway, and I like to think that if you had presented him with the term social media he would have been just as appalled by it as I am. There is no music in it. It does not roll from the tongue. It neither sings nor flies. It is ugly. It is quite massively overused. And it doesn’t mean anything.

Yes, alright, I accept it means something, but it doesn’t mean much. It means, literally, Facebook and Twitter and a few other mechanisms for people to communicate with each other and show off to other people that they are communicating with each other. There’s Flickr and Tumblr and Instagram (which sold for $1 billion recently), there’s YouTube, and MySpace (and even I know it’s a bit of a joke to include the last one on my list, as it fairly reeks of 2004[1]). So you say social media when you don’t want to say Facebook and Twitter, basically, and you say social media because if you say Facebook and Twitter instead that doesn’t sound as sophisticated.

A social media expert or a social media commentator understands the impact of the communications revolution which is taking place and the implications for empowering the consumer and citizen along the way, whereas someone who knows Facebook and Twitter understands that they are good ways to show amusing pictures of cats to people, and that’s really what the internet is for, isn’t it? (Here’s a picture of a cat dressed as a cowboy: http://www.people.com/people/package/gallery/0,,20058392_20152851_20355601,00.html). If you call it social media you sound like you are an expert. And this could indeed be your job, your only job, analysing this stuff and advising corporations and governments on it. All these people do is spend time on the internet, mucking around, “picking up trends”, which is a euphemism for more mucking around, and then talking about their experiences in a solemn way afterwards as though it’s all very hard to understand and we need seasoned cutting edge thinkers such as they to explain the new realities to fogeys like me.

Remember “Information Superhighway”? That was a stupid term too, which I think Mr. Gates bequeathed to the world, and thankfully nobody uses it any more, as it was also almost meaningless and most definitely overused and just succeeded in confusing people.

And to be a part of this new world of communication you need so many addresses and identities. My nephew was showing me all of his profiles the other day. Like a series of addresses. A number of places where he can be found in the internet. And so many email addresses! I have only one: Cindy my secretary prints out any messages I receive on it, and I read them, and then dictate my answer for her on a Dictaphone, and she types out the answer. And that one address seems to be enough for me.

I wonder how much of this is necessary. I read the New York Times on my iPad and let the kids obsess themselves with social media.




[1] Or so I’m told. In 2004 I was negotiating a gas pipeline deal in the Caucasus. We didn’t use social media to do that.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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