Monday, January 18, 2016

“Not As It Was,” but “As It Could And Must Have Been.”

As I mentioned yesterday, I am changing the way I do “dialogues” on Facebook.  Of course, what I call dialogue some might call “trolling,” but we can agree to disagree.

Can’t we?  Maybe not.  If we agree to disagree, we can keep talking.  If we don’t, there’s no discussion at all (maybe an echo chamber is all), and there can be no progress.

I think that’s key to the whole Facebook/Social Media thing I discussed yesterday.  Can we have “effective communication,” whether the subject is political or not?  In a conversation over the weekend, I began to wonder if there had been any research on that subject.  I even Googled, “social media stifles effective communication” to see what popped up.

There’s a shitload.  That’s the good news. 
It’s not terrible conclusive.  That’s the bad news. 

This is not terribly surprising, as social media like Facebook is relatively new.  I remember doing research on television’s effect on perceptions in the Eighties, and TV had been around for more than three decades.  I am going to talk about some of that research, along with something else I am currently reading that gave me insights as to my “new direction.”

One report that was at the top of the Google list (for me, your results may vary) was done here in the Northwest by Quinn Thomas, a Public Affairs organization HQ’d here in Oregon.  Entitled, “NEW REPORT: Social media and public opinion,” it did what good research is supposed to do – offer insight and raise even more questions on the subject.  You can download the report for free here.  It’s an interesting read.

Caveats:  the study centered on users here in the Northwest, and, as the report indicates, we are not exactly the makeup of the rest of the country, so you can’t read that into it.  We’re a bit more liberal, younger, more professional (especially as how they targeted participants – it just worked out that way).  Still, what I took from it was that even as we SAY social media has influence, we aren’t really sure that true. 

More specifically, we say we’ve changed our mind or become more informed about a subject, but those other guys…I dunno.  Sounds right.

This was in the report.  Agree 100%

One must remember than Quinn Thomas is a PR firm, so, their ultimate users of the report (clients who want to use social media for a specific purpose) have ulterior motives, to be sure.  Still, this take-away from the report hit me like a ton of bricks:

Where it (social media) doesn’t seem to have as much traction is as a forum for civic dialogue. What is often held up by digital innovators, technologists, and communications professionals as the revolutionary force behind social media’s success appears to be the public’s least supported rationale for using it.  At the end of our analysis, that is perhaps the most concrete counsel we can provide in helping others avoid the mistake of thinking a Facebook page or a Twitter handle is an easy solution to communications or engagement challenges. (emphasis mine)

There were also a couple of quotes used in the report from participants that summed up nicely the conflicting views of the value of social media.  Both of these quotes come from younger (under 30) Facebook users.  Consider:

“I think social media is an ideal location where you can plant a seed and expose people to new information. It’s a great place to be exposed to new information, but not necessarily form new opinions. It plants a seed. Then you can go from there.”

“I kind of take social media with a grain of salt. It is like the writing on a bathroom wall.  It is not necessarily information, but it is not necessarily misinformation. It is opinions.  It is social before it is media.”

Go back and re-read both quotes.  What are they really trying to say?  Social media works, but it doesn’t; it’s there, and it’s not there.  You can get new info but it won’t change anything, unless it’s something something something.  I am confused.

Well, I was confused.  Then I came across a section from a book I’m reading, and it all makes sense.  “A Man of Misconceptions” is the story of Father Arthanasius Kircher, the legendary 17th-Century Jesuit priest who was a great genius and/or colossal crackpot…or both.  Living in an era of radical transformation, especially in the realm on understanding and knowledge (the scientific method has just been introduced, changing the way we understand things from interpretation to observation), Kircher was prolific, writing about a vast variety of subjects (in lengthy, well-illustrated 900-page tomes), getting some things very right and others horribly wrong.

The part that jumped out at me in regards to our current discussion of Facebook conversations (and the way things are) was Kircher’s book “Latium,” a study of the area around Rome.  Kircher claimed Noah first settled in the region, his traits and qualities serving as the inspiration for Roman and Greek mythology.  But what struck me was Kircher’s own description of the engravings and maps depicting the region “not as it was,” but as it could and must have been.”

I think that’s what the quotes above are trying to say.  I think we WANT Facebook (and main-stream media) to be both informative and effective, to give us enough information, the “right” information, the most useful information…but we have trouble with that.  Anything that seems to contradict what we already believe, we discard.  We embrace what we already know.  We tell things not as they are, but "as they could and must be,"

We all do this to an extent.  We're human.  So it goes.

Therefore, I will still try to “find common ground” with MOST anyone.  I remain optimistic about this.  But I will not join into some subjects, nor “dialogue” with everyone. 

Some subjects, alas, are too complex and/or too explosive to discuss online.  That’s just my opinion.  It’s just not worth the time and effort to go down certain paths.  So I won’t.  You’ll see where I avoid comment.  Enjoy.

There are also some responders who I will no longer bother with.  Brick walls are brick walls.  If I see a change, maybe I’ll join in, but not until.  Not that you’ll notice.  Or care.

Otherwise, let’s keep it going.  I'll be picking my battles carefully.

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