Cormac Russell of the renowned Asset Based Community Development Institute (and by his own admission ‘a social media newbie’) asked whether people were suggesting that online communication augments, replaces or substitutes “knee to knee connections”. [I have to admit, I do like ‘knee to knee’…will have to adopt that one!]
This followed a lively debate in the comments on my earlier blog on communication and the community organisers programme.
Cormac’s question is an important one and I thought it warranted a quick blog in response in it’s own right….so here goes. [Part two of my response to recent community organising debate will have to wait!]
Nothing replaces face to face (or from now on, knee to knee!) communication. It’s the basis of society and civilisation and has been since, well, since we invited language. Social media is not and cannot be a replacement to the benefits of meeting to chew over the fat with each other. However I strongly believe that social media does bring something new to the party…
1) Social media allows us to communicate with people we cannot meet face to face with. It allows people to interact who otherwise would not be able to, or may not even know. The comments from Garry Garrilla are very interesting and add things to the debate I would otherwise not have known. I’ve never met Garry…I don’t even know who he is or where he lives. Clearly debating online has enhanced my experience by allowing me to connect with others with similar interests.
2) Another thing I think that social media does to enhance debate and complement discussions in person, is the fact that (for the most part) it takes place ‘in the open’. Even if people wish not to post comments and directly participate in the debate, it allows them to follow what others are saying. This obviously gives a degree of transparency that would otherwise be impossible – a report of a meeting, event or discussion, is not the same as it is always produced through the eyes of the author. It offers more than transparency though, as it also provides a record of what people said that can (and should!) be used to hold them to account.
3) Online may be a neat way to describe all the internet has to offer, but it’s not really a single thing….and that’s another thing I like about social media. The current debate about community organisers has taken place across numerous blogs, on twitter, via email (I speak for myself here), on Nings and no doubt countless other platforms. Some is instant and conducted in realtime – much like a conversation – others are more linear….one person posts something, and then later someone else responds. And others still, mix the two. As anyone with even a cursory interest in participation will know, people like to participate in different ways and through different methods. This is as true for online participation as it is for offline participation. So, the fact that social media adds numerous different platforms and styles of communication is great.
Of course social media cannot replace face to face contact, but it can, augment it and enhance it. When I meet someone who’s participated in this recent discussion, we will pick up where the online discussion left off. Then, afterwards we will no doubt return to online interaction – probably involving a range of other people.
We don’t yet know, as Clay Shirky has eloquently said in ‘Here Comes Everybody’, what the implications of all this technological development are on society. But I for one, am determined to give it a go and see how we can use it and have fun finding out!