Are Social Media “the Tardis in Reverse?”

I finally got around to Nick Carr’s Social Software in Perspective post; he’s always good for a couple of nuggets:

“Social software,” writes Phil Edwards today, “looks like very big news indeed from some perspectives, but when it’s held to the standard of actually helping people get stuff done, it fades into insignificance.[…] [S]ocial software begins to look like a Tardis in reverse: much, much bigger on the outside than it is on the inside.”

The crowd may enjoy the product of other people’s inputs, but for the rather small group of individuals actually doing the work, it demands the investment of a lot of time for very little personal gain. It’s a fun diversion for a while – and then it turns into drudgery.

Greg Linden, who should know, adds that

People are lazy, appropriately so. If you ask them to do work, most of them won’t do it. From their point of view, you’re only of value to them if you save them time.

Joshua Porter takes a different slant, citing Ryan Carson’s Why I Don’t Use Social Software:

Ryan is right, most folks outside the teenage demographic don’t have time to spend actively seeking out new social networking tools. Instead, if we did hear about it we would probably find out by someone else telling us or by somehow inviting us to participate…If we look at the history of software, we see that it trends toward modeling human behavior (as I’ve mentioned before)…I quoted Wil Wright recently, and I think he’s (pardon the pun) right on. First thought of as super calculators, computers are now part of the social fabric of our lives. They are becoming integral to how we communicate with our family, friends, and colleagues. They’re still doing calculations of course, but the software that we’ve designed for them is all about human-to-human contact. Social contact. And since we’re social animals in the end, the trend of modeling this in software won’t be reversing any time soon.

I’m reminded of Eszter Hargittai’s research showing a low degree of awareness of web 2.0 tools by college students. (She presented some of her findings the Beyond Broadcast conference earlier this year.)


One thought on “Are Social Media “the Tardis in Reverse?”

  1. As you may guess, I agree with a lot of the skepticism about how far and wide these services will travel. That said, I do have one problem with some of the reactions. As at least one commenter on Nick Carr’s post notes, some people think that the mere fact that someone might have time to participate in social software is a red flag about the quality of their contributions. I guess such people think that if you have time to bookmark things then you must not have a valuable job or you must be a slacker and tend to waste time. I think this is narrow-minded. I also heard an academic make a similar comment once.”We as profs” don’t have time for this, we’re too busy. The implication is that we’re too busy with more important and more productive things. I think that’s too simplistic as well.

    Of course, this discussion could be taken to that other level of who has time to blog. Some people assume only those with too much time on their hands have time to blog and thus cannot possibly make valuable contributions. It’s rarely presented as something people may have time for because they take part in fewer recreational activities, say, watching less TV. (I’m not suggesting that watching TV is a bad thing. All I’m saying is that some people decide to watch TV, while others decide to surf the Web, write online, contribute to social bookmarking services, etc.. Watching TV is a private activity so there is no accountability for the time spent on it. But it’s hardly more productive per se.)

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