This holiday season on my way to visiting a friend in Louisiana, I spent a lot of time sitting at various airports. There are no direct flights to Monroe, LA so I found myself running up and down catching different flights at the Denver and Houston airports. Along the way to the gate I passed an interesting spectacle: scads of young people in their 20s and early 30s leaning against backpacks and balancing a laptop but more often, a cell phone or game device. I watched as they stared straight into the oracle of their LCDs, thumbs waving and clicking as they conducted an electronic orchestra of iPhone applications, text messages, scrolling at lightening speed through email, destroying battleships, their thumbs doing most of the work.
Being a friendly sort of person, I asked a number of backpack hatchers what they were doing, although it was obvious that they were passing time. Some looked up and smiled. Others were obviously annoyed by my interruption. But they all spoke either one of two words: “Facebook” or “Twitter,” and then they wanted me to go away. Quickly.
I’ve known about Facebook and Twitter for some time now and even have my account on each service. But the holiday airport experience in the midst of repeated terrorist threats and talks of heightened security, brought me to a different kind of “ah-ha.”
Facebook and Twitter and social networkers everywhere are changing established patterns of communication. We are thumbing our way to new peer relationships impacting a long-term top-down hierarchical model of communication where the creator or message sender controls the dialog. This is a phenomenon that is being carefully watched by marketers and corporations everywhere. We should watch it also, but maybe for different reasons.
Marketing groups and major corporations have taken notice. WalMart has jumped on the bandwagon as has ComCast, seeking to repair a less than stellar record for customer service, which is reported in“Twitterville” by Shel Israel
In the December 16, 20.09 issue of The Huffington Post, Manish Mehta, Dell Computer’s social-media and community vice president, said that “What we've learned is that social media has transformed the large corporation of the millennium into the Mom and Pop shop of the old days. The emergence of social media simply makes it more possible to connect directly with customers every day.”
But learning how to use technology to connect with customers, is giving a good number of baby-boom corporate leaders heartburn, although some like Cisco have decided to nurture that expertise in-house.
According to Norys Trevino, Collaboration Manager and Y-Space coach, “The objective of Y-Space is to help educate and inform Cisco employees about new media tips and tricks, how to work more effectively across diverse generations, how to engage and retain gen-y employees, and explore personal filters related to generational differences.”
So why should we care about this stuff?
Conversations are markets on the internet, advises Patrick Schwerdtfeger in a popular self-help book called “Webify Your Business.”
“Not only can you participate in the conversation, but you can actually facilitate that conversation as well. Think about the people who built any of the large forums or bulletin boards on the internet. Those people gain credibility by facilitating the conversation.”
Is this a ghost cousin of the hierarchy? Or maybe it’s about contributing something to the larger community. But none of this is really new. There have always been leaders. It’s just that much of what we do as humans—talk to each other—is increasingly happening inside different forums.
Have you sat down lately to watch a backpack hatcher engage in a text message conversation, marvel at the speed, the truncated lingo, the sheer efficiency of it all?
So I wonder what this says about new literary forms that are coming at us? Already there are journals like Tarpaulin Sky Press that devote themselves to hybrid forms or to collaborative writing communities like http://www.makeliterature.com/.
The January / February 2010 issue of “Poets & Writers” talks about an online dictionary called Wordnik , which is in the process of being created by an community a users. According to the article, Wordnik has collected more than four billion words of text from Web pages, books, magazines, and newspapers in a mission to chronicle the evolution of language, a new approach to defining a vocabulary that is being bombarded by diverse sources.
I wonder in this emerging global community, if writers will collaborate together on international projects in several languages with the ability to translate back and forth?
What about the addition of visual media and film, YouTube links interspersed in plot lines that can be accessed inside electronic books? These are all questions with a to be continued dateline.
However it happens, I’m hoping that there will still remain a place for solitary artists who participate in the global electronic dialog, but can become an expatriate inside their own minds, carefully crafting language and stories away from the consumer conversation that will eternally be filled with news of the best deals to buy right now. So many writers these days have been forced for political reasons to leave their homelands, exiles, who like the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, discovered a home inside his head.
I hope that no one will thumb their nose at the continued need for the artist everywhere to disengage and reflect, but maybe with a larger sense of responsibility to a collective dialog about what it means to be human.