This post was inspired by a humorous post on The Onion, titled:
“New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It: Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit”
It was shared by my friend Mark Pesce via Twitter this morning and gave me a chuckle while I was on the train. But then it reminded me of the well known Christian/Jewish scripture:
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Which is the ancient wisdom that explains why 1980s fashion is trendy again. However, it also gives us an insight into humans. While we change the tools – from stone axes through to guns and computers – it is hard to change the fundamental architecture of humans and their behaviours.
We’ve all seen the breathless announcement of yet another innovative/ groundbreaking /game-changing/ revolutionary /cool /[insert appropriate PR buzzword] social networking application. But what does it change really? Certainly not the people who use it.
However, what it does change is the affordances available to the person. For instance Twitter enables almost instantaneous broadcast communication around the world (of course that is when the API is not down). Thus a cranky comment, that would once have traveled all the way across the office without that technology, can now annoy someone in London quite easily.
Thus it never fails to amuse and annoy me in equal parts when people act just like people do everywhere on social networks and it is reported as if this is some special property of social networks.
Those people who are ill informed idiots were like that before they ever defaced a Facebook memorial or something similar. These behaviours do not arise ex nihilo in a person just because they signed up to a social network. But the social network context might help to amplify that behaviour.
The case is well argued by Tom Stewart in his post Don’t blame social media for bad behaviour.
The technology creates new affordances for people. It amplifies any behaviours and actions far beyond what used to be possible. Thus my comment that “it changes nothing, yet it changes everything”. We as a society will have to find new ways of dealing with this amplification of normal human behaviour and actions. I suspect it’s the beginning of a long journey.