Monday, 22 May 2017

Social media is becoming more like the world

A long article in the SMH this morning about Twitter co-founder Ev Williams can be profitably read and so can contain some insights into the world of social media.

The son of a Nebraska farmer, Williams was always the cerebral type and apparently coming into contact with Wired magazine in the early 90s was a seminal moment for him. He found himself in Silicon Valley where he got involved with social media in the form of Blogger, which was bought by Google in 2003. (The blog you're reading is a Blogger blog.) Twitter followed but recently the cerebral thinker and innovator has begun looking at ways to take the sting out of social media's tail.

What do I mean by that? Apparently Williams had found the jock culture of 80s Nebraska - growing up in a rural community - unsatisfying. But now, as the article makes clear, it is those types - the less-intellectually curious, the mundane, and the ordinary - who are taking over the way social media works because they outnumber the cerebral ones by a wide margin in real life. The chickens have come home to roost. We now have Twitter helping Donald Trump - the epitome of a know-nothing leader - to get into power. The car wrecks the article talks about are happening more frequently because that's what cuts through and the people publishing the stuff are willing to lie to get what they want - which is attention.

It's the boy who cried "wolf" happening every day of the week, every moment of the day. The thinkers are being drowned out by the plebs. Democracy in action, or a failed system? Was social media meant to improve the stock or is it being commandeered by the hoi polloi into merely conveying the stupid messages their lives are saturated with, because they don't know any better?

It's hard to say. Williams, for his part, is still wedded to Medium, the publishing platform he set up and is funding, but it's not breaking even. Twitter itself is struggling financially. They're great ideas, but it seems that the quality of the platform is prescribed to an overwhelming degree by the quality of the people who use it. Can things happen the other way around? Can social media help people to become better versions of themselves? With recent and promised tweaks to publishing policies the major platforms might be on the way to achieving this, but as new generations of users come through the pipeline it's going to be hard to see an end to the stupidity. There will always be another wave of fools to foul the pond.

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