How I went from disliking computers to feeling way too comfortable about making unnecessary upper case declarations

How I went from disliking computers to feeling way too comfortable about making unnecessary upper case declarations

Contributed by : HD

Several of us in BSS took part in the recent thought-provoking CIG e-forum on social media in the cataloguing community.  Prompted by that, we asked HD – who has long been an enthusiastic advocate for social media – to share some of her thoughts on the subject. 

An avid user and supporter of social media, I’ve been asked to give my take on the subject. Since my take amounts to ‘YAY SOCIAL MEDIA \o/’, I have decided to take a bit of a meandering path through my discovery and my <3ing of social networking and media. Blogging was the thing which was taking off when I first got online about ten years ago. People were beginning a tentative migration from the talking in a circle format of mailing lists to the interacting from a podium format of blogs, but it was those lists that really drew me in. I initially signed up for an e-mail account with no intention of using it much, but once signed up and online, a Yahoo directory of interest based groups caught my attention.

It seemed a very odd thing, from my newbie point of view, groups of strangers scattered across the globe engaging with each other despite never having met. All anyone had in common was the one interest on which a group was formed (and time stamps indicating that they were up at three in the morning). Did they talk about anything other than their shared interest? Of course they did, because the internet is great at being off topic and it’s also where all the interesting questions get asked. Can anyone recommend some free virus protection? Tell me more about this open source thing. Are there any free archiving tools out there??I’m sorry, what does GTFO mean? Oh, I see, well that was unnecessary and impolite. You get the picture.

 There are of course corners of the internet filled with stupid questions that result in either equally daft answers, or brilliant stupidity-defeating responses, but more often than not, if your question is not completely insane, the responses will be enthusiastic and helpful and it’s this enthusiasm for discussion and sharing which is a major driving force behind the evolution of social networking and media. The media-makers can see that we like to interact, that we like to share, so they create products that are geared towards making it easier to do these things. When I joined my first Yahoo group, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to blog, or tweet or share my musical tastes through sites like LastFM, but wanting to be part of wider circle of enthusiasm coupled with the potential of discovering more new and awesome things is a pretty big lure.

Over the years it’s become easier and easier to observe other people’s content flow by subscribing, friending, following or watching blog rolls and friends lists. When certain platforms introduced tagging, some of us were just waiting for that kind of functionality, the ability to index our content as well as content produced by others, not only for ourselves but for the countless others using hive-mind vocabularies, searching for similar things, i.e., #lulz. Increasingly, sites and services were appearing with common elements like the ability to create networks and find/share content through tagging. It’s hard to imagine any new service now being introduced without the options to tag or follow.

Social media has become a remarkable professional and political tool, now that we’re mobile, wireless and iPadded (and if we’re none of these things, at the very least we’re probably close to a location that might offer free internet access to help us on our way – if the local library hasn’t been shut down… yet). Social media has given us the opportunity to become speakers, reporters and educators, if we want to be, and that’s no bad thing. Sure, it comes with a pressure to be liked, retweeted, reblogged, but the result of this regurgitation of content is that you might just reach the people you wanted to, even if you do get flamed, trolled, blocked or defriended on the way.

I suppose this potential for reaching any and all is what I most like about social media. I’m fairly certain Twitter was never intended as a platform for educating, informing or protesting, but Tweeters have used the immediacy offered by mobile technology to speak from the one to the many, to tell us about more than just what they had for breakfast. There will always be the people who detract from the potential of social media, concentrating on its trivial nature, while boasting about how they don’t even own a phone, barely know how to use the internet and cycle to work on their penny-farthing (not that I’m bothered by tech-haters or penny-farthings).

The fact that we have this option to communicate to so many people from a phone, using a free wi-fi hotspot, that’s amazing, especially when you think back to the days of modems screaming painfully in an attempt to connect, dying half away through loading a page with a hundred flashing graphics on a fuchsia background. Remember when you couldn’t use the internet and the phone at the same time? There are ten year olds using diamante covered pink BlackBerrys who will never be able to imagine that such a thing was even physically possible, in fact sometimes I do wonder if this is a fabricated memory…

Social media, with all its trivial uses, is a very powerful tool when used with a bit of common sense and imagination, but it requires us to be willing to engage and participate in a very big conversation. The downside is encountering people who will use anonymity to be offensive and hurtful, but the upside is that businesses might just find a few more customers, artists might find a few more admirers, causes might find a few more supporters and on the way, we might make a few more useful connections. That is a not a bad thing at all.

I’m sure we are all – in the cataloguing community, and in the world of libraries generally – well aware of the need to find more customers, admirers and supporters and of how essential it is to make useful connections.  No doubt the question of how we can best harness the power of social media is a topic we shall be returning to in later posts.

As always, any comments would very welcome.