It Is No Longer OK To Proclaim Social Media As New

Must we go through this every year? Social media is still not new. It wasn’t new last year. Or the year before. In fact, it hasn’t been new for well over a decade. The web was social from day one, even if the term was popularized later on.

Marketers and media: if the notion of a social form of media is “new” to you, you’re asleep at the wheel. It might even be time to seek a new profession.

We’ve gone through these arguments repeatedly since we started this site, but let’s go ahead and dig up some quotes as a friendly reminder:

As technology blogger Steven Hodson notes:

Just because we slap a new term and some soothing pastel web pages together it doesn’t invalidate what came before it. It doesn’t change the fact that we have been socializing on the web long before someone invented the marketing term of social media. It sometimes seems though that the tech world has this inbreed need to proclaim something as new and totally different than what came before when in fact this isn’t the case.

In the same post, also cited is a quote from MIT professor credited with inventing the web Tim Berners-Lee:

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.

So when I stumble upon posts like this recent one by Alfred Hermida at Nieman Journalism Lab it is frustrating to say the least. The author inaccurately proclaims:

Social media is largely still seen as a new, shiny entrant into the world of media.

But is it? Who actually views social media as new anymore? Are there really so many of these individuals left? The author offers no evidence here or links as context other than his own opinion.

I actually think it is no longer OK to proclaim or position social media as being new, or even seen as new. It’s just not a correct statement and is simply making excuses for those not paying attention to the evolution of the digital landscape over the last decade-plus. Or it’s made by those trying to hawk their snake oil software / services as if it’s some marketing or media panacea. It’s not helpful or accurate.

Further, the author’s post itself is interesting, but it is hardly an original observation. I knew I recognized the perspective from somewhere: it’s from Kevin Kelly’s New Rules for the New Economy.

From Hermida (last week)

Technologies reach their full potential when we forgot about the novelty. Instead they become boring and blend into the background. How often do we think about the technology behind the telephone, or the television set in our living room?

With any luck, this is what will happen with social media. Social media tools and services will be so ingrained within our everyday experiences that we forget that they are such recent developments.

Essentially, the technology will become invisible as we shape it to meet our political, social, and cultural needs.

From Kevin Kelly (originally published in 1998)

As technology becomes ubiquitous it also becomes invisible. The more chips proliferate, the less we will notice them. The more networking succeeds, the less we’ll be aware of it.

…Computer technology is undergoing the same disappearance. If the information revolution succeeds, the standalone desktop computer will eventually vanish. Its chips, its lines of connection, even its visual interfaces will submerge into our environment until we are no longer conscious of their presence (except when they fail). As the network age matures, we’ll know that chips and glass fibers have succeeded only when we forget them. Since the measure of a technology’s success is how invisible it becomes, the best long-term strategy is to develop products and services that can be ignored.

Good observations, not denying that. But unfortunately none of it is original or new. Neither is social media …and if it is for you, I wouldn’t go around shouting that. Instead, I’d get caught up: whether you’re on the marketing or media side of the fence, it’s your job to get this stuff and be the ones pushing things, not lost or scrambling to catch up.

If you still think it’s OK to call social media new, you might also think it’s OK for congress to still not understand the internet. Neither are right, both a bit shameful.

image credit: Shutterstock