Learn the language before you speak to me

Stuart Henshall says that you should Use the Tools First: Then Talk to Me:

I just walked out of one session where the presenter made a joke about Facebook. I checked; I’m fairly sure he’s not on it. That’s a big problem that exists here. You cannot talk about the impact of wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, tagging, even search unless you actually use them.

I agreed with this as soon as I read it and then wondered why. You don’t ask a doctor to have first suffered a disease before discussing how to treat it. Many academics in business school have never started a company, yet they can talk about the fundamentals of business.

Why is the Web, and especially social media, so different?

I think that one fundamental difference about social media is that they have a strong influence on the user, very much in a McLuhanesque medium/message/massage way. Those who come to web media for the first time are like adults learning a new language. You cannot start with the same advanced mental models and metaphors that you have in your primary language. Furthermore, if you do get to an advanced level in your new language, you may not have noticed it but the language, with its idioms, metaphors and culture, has had a strong influence on how you think in that language.

Social media change the way you communicate. Write a blog for a year or more and your writing (and thinking) will change. Use Twitter for some time and you will get an immersed sense of being connected to many people and understanding them on a different level. Even the ubiquitous Facebook changes how you may think of being apart from friends. Social media can change the way you think.

When you adopt a web social medium you are also starting on the bottom, or at the single node level. You have to make connections with what will become your network, either by connecting to existing relationships or doing something that helps to create new relationships, like writing a post. Starting over again, in each medium, can be daunting, especially for someone in a position of authority who is concerned about image or influence.

Yes, you need to use the tools first. You have to understand what it’s like to be a node in a social network. There is almost nothing like it in the industrial workplace or school system to prepare you for this. Therefore you won’t know what you’re talking about until you learn the new language of online networks. The only way to learn a new language is through practice. Social media are new languages.

PS: I took Stuart’s advice and downloaded the social web browser, Flock, from which I wrote this post.

8 Responses to “Learn the language before you speak to me”

  1. Christopher Mackay

    What about people who tried Facebook, hated it, and deactivated their accounts? They won’t show up. Do they get dismissed by Stuart, too? How does he know the difference?

  2. Harold Jarche

    I hope not. I’ve left several social networks because they don’t do much for me but I don’t criticize a new way of communicating until I try it. It took me a long time to understand Twitter and now I find it a valuable way to communicate.

  3. Jennifer Nicol

    But you gotta admit, Facebook is easy to make (should I say poke) fun of. Whether or not you like it, there’s just something about Facebook that invites scoffing, and I think it is because something about it scares us. Is it the cheapening of the word ‘friends’? Is it the (brilliant) name, that reminds us of ‘in your face’. Is it the irritating and now practically archetypal figure of the 20-something developer laughing all the way to the next application? Is it the Big-Brother way that it reminds us that privacy is an increasingly precious commodity? Or is it the way that it taps into social anxiety?Just today I wrote to a friend that I keep meaning to shut down my Facebook account, but I’m too afraid I’ll miss something.

  4. Dave Ferguson

    Jennifer’s got a point, though pretty much everything’s easy to make fun of, if you’re so inclined. “Friending” is an excellent example, but then, so is corporate speak, and so are the tribal rituals of academia. (Ooo, a full professor.)

    One analogy I’ve used, Harold, for things that you really do need to experience is that of the “magic eye” style optical illusion (the autostereogram).

    If you’ve never see a 3D image appear from what looks like a 2D mess, you probably won’t completely buy into someone else’s explanation of what it’s like.


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