How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

by Deanna Zandt, AlterNet.org, July 24, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Deanna Zandt’s ‘Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking’ (Berrett Koehler, 2010).

…How we share information, find community, and both connect and disconnect will give us unprecedented influence over our place in the world. Social media technology holds some of the biggest potential for creating tectonic shifts in how we operate, and the overall open-ended promise of technology gives us a great shot at creating the systems for change…It hasn’t been easy to thrive in our culture for the last hundred years or so. We’ve become ever more obsessed with consumption and power. Our corporate mass media and politicians have been treating us as faceless members of large demographics with open wallets, and less as individuals within communities, leading us down dark paths of apathy and isolation. We’ve had little room for recourse and little chance to connect to one another.
All of that’s changing, and rapidly. People are using social technologies to find and connect…When we connect and share our lives with one another, both in the digital space and in the physical space, we create bonds of trust and empathy that lead us away from that apathy that’s glazed over our eyeballs for at least a century. Our lives matter: What we believe and which truths we hold to be self-evident matter.
Here’s the thing: I truly believe that through social networking, we can influence the way these conversations affect how change happens. As more conversations are taking place in public, we can represent ourselves. We can break stereotypes. We can transform our new connections into social change.
…we have to choose where we “spend” our attention, and those seeking to gain our attention have to use market-based tactics–aka “marketing”! aha!–to win the privilege of our spending our attention on them.
We have to reframe our interactions with one another–we shouldn’t be thinking about trying to “pay attention” to everything that comes our way and then running out of attention to pay. We need to make the world around us a stream or flow of information, and dip in and out of that flow as necessary or desired. Attention, in this model, isn’t a scarce commodity; it’s an unending stream that weaves in and out of other streams. As web visionary Stowe Boyd argues,
The answer is not becoming obsessed with attention as a limited resource to be husbanded, or thinking of our cognition as a laser beam to be pointed at only at what is important.
We need to unfocus, to rely more on the network or tribe to surface things of importance, and remain open to new opportunities: these are potentially more important than the work on the desk. Don’t sharpen the knife too much.
Since attention isn’t composed of chunks that accumulate and are doled out in this way of thinking, it’s fairly useless to consider the system a finite economy. Those who yell the loudest and make the biggest fools of themselves will become less important as our notions of celebrity also change–having higher numbers of viewers or followers or fans doesn’t equal influence and fame. Or, at least it doesn’t have to. If we can turn around our thinking, away from the style of mass media that has only served to alienate us from one another and has produced lowest-common-denominator content, and toward a more holistic, ecosystem-like view in which relationships to and relevancy of content matter, then attention’s scarcity also begins to disappear.
Once scarcity is removed from the model, market economics doesn’t apply to it. You’re not competing for others’ attention; you’re creating sustainable relationships across which content flows, many ways….We are at a critical cultural juncture where it is up to us to experiment and ultimately define how things work in the ecosystem.

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