Category Archives: Social Media

I’m a celebrity, let’s exploit a penguin!

It’s Christmas season again. You can tell this not by the fact that advent has begun, which it hasn’t yet, but because every major retailer in the country has released their Christmas advert. The reality TV shows are also everywhere, counting down to a Christmas finale of no doubt epic proportions, where an idiotic Irishman will declare that someone who is tone deaf is the greatest singer since Arion, two little Geordie’s will crown a non-celebrity king or queen of the five star jungle and some moody blokes in black ties will say that a dance that none of us have heard of was sequin-tastic.

And whilst I am trying to control my undoubted excitement and hoping that Santa Claus doesn’t fall out of his sleigh, I will change the channel in the hope of finding something more educational for my daughters to watch. My hope will be to find something that is more stimulating than the mind-numbing anti-entertainment that now makes up weekend prime time programming. Of course my daughters won’t care, they will only have eyes for the iPads, browsing for the toys we haven’t bought them for Christmas and then not talking to us for a week because we clearly don’t love them.

Every year is the same. Whilst the rational people use advent as the earliest opportunity to even start thinking about Christmas, the rest of the world starts to get ready just after Halloween. This is the reason I can now read my book at night by the light of my neighbour’s Christmas lights, which could also double as the approach lights for Heathrow. I can hear the whirring of the electrical meter from down the street. But on the plus side Southern Electric shares are going up in price by the hour. We’ve got to get out of this recession somehow. I’m fairly sure though that he has paid for the lights with a Wonga loan!

Don’t get me wrong, I really like Christmas, I like to ‘do’ Christmas and have a merry old time. I like my children to think Christmas is magical and all that, because those memories will stay with them forever. But what I don’t like is that it seems to last for three months now, it is shoved down our throats from all angles and that underneath all this false merriment everyone is basically miserable and moans about everything.

Take TV adverts. John Lewis has for years now been producing high end adverts especially for Christmas. It has become a spectacle that people wait for with baited breath. And on the day the advert appears social media goes mad for it. Last year’s was a touching animation about a bear, accompanied by a mediocre Lily Allen cover of a well loved Keane song. The year before was an equally heart wrenching tale of a snow man and snow woman. The nation universally shed a tear for a wonderful piece of storytelling. This year’s is no different. Monty the Penguin is a visual masterpiece that cost them £1 million to produce and tells the lovely story of a boy’s lonely Penguin in desperate need of more penguin companionship.

But this year John Lewis doesn’t have the monopoly, almost every major brand has cottoned on to the ‘Christmas Epic Advert’. They want a piece of the action and so the marketing boffins have been scratching their heads since Easter to work out what story they can tell that’ll get us all crying. No doubt they’ve been out experimenting, taking candy from babies and poking dogs with sticks to see what is most touching. Well maybe not, but it would seem that Sainsburys probably should have done that, as they wouldn’t have got as much backlash as their Christmas advert seems to have stirred up.

This year, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, they have produced an advert that dramatizes the legendary Christmas Truce that took place in 1914. Their treatment is a sensitive, understated and yet very thought provoking tale of two soldiers, one German and one British, who venture out into no mans land and meet in the middle to offer seasons greetings. A football match ensues and there is much merriment, until the idyllic scene is shattered by distant gun fire. The advert ends with the German having a blue wrapped chocolate bar from the Brit, and the Brit a biscuit from the German. But barely had the advert finished than social media was going mad with complaints of outrage. How dare Sainsburys exploit a conflict where millions died in order to make profit? OFCOM say they have received hundreds of complaints about the advert.

So let’s put this into context for a moment. Sainsburys has worked with the Royal British Legion for over 20 years, and made this advert in conjunction with them. Bearing in mind the significance of the anniversary on which this has been released, it is unlikely this wasn’t discussed in some detail on more than one occasion over the last year or so. During that period of planning, which would have been quite in depth for a production of this level, one presumes that some of the members of that organisation, who are uniquely qualified to have a view on such things, might have mentioned if they thought this advert was in bad taste. Presumably no one did because Sainsburys went ahead with it and have also released additional footage about the making of the film as well.

And yet they are apparently exploiting the memory of the war. And yet funnily enough I don’t remember seeing British soldiers strolling across no mans land with hands full of supermarket products. Or the hun coming in the other direction armed to the teeth with toiletries and wearing orange overalls. One assumes the same people who are throwing these accusations around on social media were quite happily chuckling away when they were watching Blackadder, or taking their photos of the poppy display at the Tower of London, which has no doubt enjoyed increased revenues as a result. Exploitation? No. The only product Sainsburys actually displays in its advert is a retro styled chocolate bar in a blue wrapper and, whilst plastering the advert with “Live Well for Less”, their motto, would have been a gigantic an error of judgement, all I remember is simple logo on black of equal weighting to that of the Royal British Legion. Those who are mortally offended that they are peddling their retro chocolate bar in this manner may like to know that the proceeds of the sales of those particular bars are going to the Royal British Legion as well and not into the pockets of Sainsburys executives. No wonder everyone is so annoyed, they really do have a nerve don’t they? How dare they donate money to a veterans charity at Christmas!

The problem is that at Christmas these sorts of stories come out because this is the time of year when we start to take stock of what we have. Lets get one thing straight and do away with the naivety here, all adverts are exploitative. They are designed specifically to make you do something that you would otherwise probably not consider doing, that is the point. This is the reason that in Sweden advertisers are banned from showing adverts during childrens programming. So what is worse, emotionally manipulating someone year on year and dressing it up as a sweet little story about penguins, or showing a well put together and rather touching dedication to those brave men and women 100 years ago, whilst raising money for that charity? If that is exploitation then exploit away because those charities need all the help they can get.

And for those who feel the need to sling accusations at the morally corrupt big wigs at these companies, I ask you to do this. Drag yourself off the crumb encrusted sofa for more than a few seconds, block out the sounds of the morally extinct, obese wastes of oxygen on I’m An X Factor Get Me Dancing and look a little deeper at what is going on. The reason you consider this exploitative is because you feel the need to defend something that you only have a passing attachment to, so that you can take a moral high ground. Your complaint is that a company has produced something for profit, using imagery of something abhorrent. But what they actually did was show a moment of compassion that highlights an extremely important and under discussed moral issue of the war. That both sides were human. They did this as a dedication to those who fought, on the 100th anniversary of a war that we all pledge we will never forget. And they did it to sell the only product they actually feature, for which the proceeds go to help a military charity. Of course they are trying to make profits but so are all businesses. I’m sure if this had been produced as a short drama you’d all love it, but that production company didn’t do it for free either! Or of course you could just sit back on the sofa and smile at the little boy playing with the toy penguins and forget all that morally important stuff. Now where are my ten million watt Christmas lights, I want to be seen from space!

iScotland – following the herd since 2007 / 1707

Last Tuesday (9th September) the world was split into two camps yet again; those who like good phones and those who don’t like Apple. This is a perennial prejudice that arises pretty much every time Apple launches a new product and doesn’t seemed to be based on anything other than an abject dislike of the Apple brand. One of the most perplexing things that has emerged as part of this in recent years is to start referring to those who do like the Apple brand as ‘sheep’. This is a term that seems to be bandied around quite a lot on the social media channels, as a way of poking fun at those who are excited about the launch of the new iPhone 6 models…and to a lesser extent the Apple watch.

The reason that this strange prejudice is perplexing is that the iPhone is the single biggest selling handset in the world. Whilst there may well be more Android users world wide, no other individual device has sold more units than the iPhone has, which means that it is, by matter of fact, one of the most popular devices around.

Apple naysayers clearly feel the need to denigrate the brand, and those who are fans of it, in some vane attempt to gain some sort of moral high ground. But what is interesting is that, by and large, there is no real reasoning behind it, other than simple not liking Apple. The fact is that the iPhone has been one of the leading edge mobile devices for some years. Whether we like it or not, it is almost singularly responsible for transforming the mobile market from the ‘telephone’ market into the ‘device’ market we now know and love. We don’t have mobile phones now, we have devices that are also able to make calls. In 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone, it was without doubt a revolution and they have continued to push the boundaries and lead the market in many ways.

There is justified criticism of Apple; they prefer their own technology to others and therefore don’t adopt things like NFC, other phones might have slightly better tech (for example, the Galaxy S3 had a better phone and video system) but side by side the differences are not noticeable enough to really say that one device far out strips another. And one thing that Apple excels in and has yet been completely unchallenged in, is its user experience. Across the board Apple interfaces are easier to use, have a more consistent UX and have a brand consistency that marks all of their products out from the rest of the pack. It is for this reason that Apple is synonymous with the vogue end of the market…people aspire to have the Apple brand in their hand.

With this in mind, it can only really be the dislike of the brand that people use as an excuse to criticise Apple followers, which seems rather churlish. Calling people who are fans of Apple ‘sheep’ because they like a very good brand, is like saying that if you like chocolate and eat the newest bar from Cadbury’s then you are a sheep. It is quite ridiculous.

And this point is very comparable with another, rather more significant, situation that is occurring literally as I write this. Today, on Thursday 18th September 2014, Scotland are going to the polls to decide if they should break away from the United Kingdom and become an independent country. It is complete coincidence that the launch of the iPhone in 2007 was the 300th anniversary year of the Union Act being passed in Scotland, but the ‘sheep’ description is being used for those wanting to stay with the Union in very comparable circumstances.

Many people will be going to the polling station to vote ‘Yes’, completely based on their pride for Scotland (and most likely their corresponding dislike for England…a long running theme between our two countries) and they will not be swayed for love nor money. It is their right to do this and we should respect it. Scotland, as a country, has the right to decide if it is part of the Union and that is the way it should be. But the worrying thing is that over the past couple of years, as this debate has waged on, a lot of people will have been pursuaded to vote ‘yes’ for devolution based purely on the emotional arguments presented and without any of the key issues being answered.

To date, Alex Salmond and the ‘yes’ camp, have failed to offer a strategy for how Scotland will retain and maintain it’s vast infrastructure, how they will secure a long term future for the country in terms of finance, a currency, political status within Europe and the international community and within the business world. There is a lot of detail up in the air but one thing is absolutely certain, if they vote for devolution then it will be a very rocky short term and the long term is entirely unclear. It seems very worrying that a possible majority of people would vote on such a big decision without any of these questions being answered, especially as the health and well being of them and their country will hinge on this.

Comparing the love / hate relationship the world has with Apple to the very significant changes occurring in Scotland seems, at face value, to be a little absurd. But that is the most worrying thing. Those who dislike Apple don’t really have very much evidence to offer when challenged on it, and when it comes to voting ‘yes’ for Scottish independence, unfortunately at this point the same is also true.

Who is Richard Brady?

We are all familiar with the scam emails from Nigerian Prince’s needing bank accounts to transfer their millions into, or lost friends stuck abroad and in desperate need of some cash. It has become part of the British comedy culture, it is in fact somewhat a cliche now. I actually find myself reading some of these and getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of them. After all, you would have to be borderline amoebic to be taken in by these, quite frankly more ludicrous than fiction, yarns.

The traditional way of receiving these has been by email and this has been happening for many many years. In more recent times similar SMS schemes have popped up; the “You’re entitled to compensation for your recent accident” one has probably been received by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. If that many accidents had actually occurred then the country would just be one big pile of wrecked cars!

Somewhat inevitably I suppose, this scam mentality has started to invade social media. The US based MTV show ‘Catfish’ features the more personal scams, where people mislead others by pretending to be someone they are not, for various personal motivations. On Twitter it is also not uncommon to start being followed by fake profiles, who then post ads to you. But one network that until recently seemed relatively safe from this is the business network LinkedIn. Which leads me to ask the question “Who is Richard Brady?”

LinkedInFraud

When I received a connection request from Richard Brady, who apparently works for Orabank (who have a website – I did a quick check), I immediately thought this seems a bit fishy, but thought I would let it play out. So having done some quick looking around to check Orabank did, on the face of it, seem vaguely real and having checked Richard Brady’s profile to see it had a plausible background, I accepted the request. After all, in my line of work you don’t turn down a connection as it may lead to a project.

Of course, and predictably, Richard Brady’s sickeningly goofy face popped into my LinkedIn inbox within 24 hours, accompanied by the above message. Now this does make a good read. It is a story of a deceit, larceny, conspiracy to defraud a presumably grieving family, money laundering and cover ups. Mr Richard Brady of Orabank does seem to be quite the operator. Is he friends with James Bond or Jack Bauer as well? Are they chasing him?

So what does this actually mean? Well for a start it means that these fraudsters are invading networking and social media sites, and not just the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, the professional sites like LinkedIn as well. Secondly, it means that someone must be falling for these scams, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. So who is that stupid and using LinkedIn? I certainly don’t want to connect with them. Thirdly, and possibly the most concerning thing, is that this profile, claiming to be a presumably fictitious ‘Richard Brady’ is using someone’s photograph to accompany an openly illegal activity.

And at the end of the day that is the most concerning thing here surely? These stories are laughable at best. They are barely worthy of a TV sitcom script, and yet someone somewhere is taking the time to construct these elaborate hoaxes, piecing together profiles with real photographs of goodness knows who. At the end of the day this photograph of Richard Brady may go viral, as ‘the face of the fraudster’. But somewhere a real person has that face, and that person is probably not Richard Brady the man of mystery, intrigue and larceny. Let’s hope the family of Mr Philip Becks (deceased – may god rest his soul) don’t go searching for him!

The real lesson here is that if you put yourself online then there is every possibility that your details and photos may well be used by someone else in their deceptions. Coming back to Catfish, the US show, people are doing this more and more, just so they can have a barrier of protection and anonymity when engaging online. And in practically every case they are using other people’s photographs, stolen from profiles online. This is the risk of putting yourself online. Do you ever really know who you are talking to unless you actually see them? We should all ask ourselves ‘is this person really who they say they are?’ … or in other words, ‘Who is Richard Brady?’

Running towards a virtual future.

I enjoy running and in the last couple of years I’ve started to enter a few races. More than anything else the driver for me is to stay fit and at the same time challenge myself. One of the best ways for me to do this is to enter events, as this gives me something to train for and thus prevents me wallowing on the sofa watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy.

Recently I entered my first virtual run. This isn’t some way of pretending you are running when you are actually sat on the sofa enjoying McDreamy and McSteamy. No, it is the growing phenomenon of running races that instead of having a fixed venue simply have a time period and in order to compete you record and post your entry during a given time period.

In this case I entered the Tweethearts 5k. This is a new one setup by my wife and some of her friends to raise money for the very worthy Moonwalk later this year. It was an interesting experience. Barely two weeks earlier I ran in the Richmond 5k, a race in Richmond park that attracts in the region of 150 runners and is a great occasion. The two experiences couldn’t be more different.

On the day of the Richmond race you arrive early and watch on, stretching in the park and trying to stay warm, queuing for one last go at the toilets, before congregating by the start line, watching the minutes tick by before the 10am start time arrives. The klaxon sounds and off you go, a runner amongst others, maneuvering for position, finding your pace and picking out the next runner in front that you want to catch and pass.

On the day of the virtual run I had breakfast, watched the morning news and even an episode of Games of Thrones before deciding that late morning would be the start time for my run. I got my running things together, took my time to select my playlist and stretch my legs out. I even waited a few minutes more for the rain to abate before heading out on to my usual route, devoid of any running marshals cheering you on, only cars passing by.

The two experiences couldn’t be more different. Richmond is a proper race, where you are competing alongside others, seeing them and sharing an experience with them. There are people around you, cheering you on and at the end you get handed your medal. It is a group experience that is entirely tangible from the moment it starts to the moment it finishes. The virtual run became something more personal. It is you and the road, you are there in that moment because you chose to be and no one else is there with you.

For me the virtual run experience was an interesting one. As someone competitive the Richmond run is great. The irresistible urge to try and catch the person in front of me, to try and get higher up the finishing list, is part of the thrill. All of this is stripped away in the virtual run and instead I am simply racing against myself. The pride comes in presenting my time to the rest of the community at the end of the day.

Virtual runs are very popular in the USA but I can’t help but think that they currently lack something that makes a running race what it is. In a world where our relationships, our entertainment, even our jobs are moving to a virtual model, the challenge for virtual runs is to try and capture the same excitement of the real races. The technology is there to allow us, as communities online, to have that excitement. Apps and websites can be created to allow real time competition between entrants. For me that is the key. I want to compete with my fellow runners, to see how they’re doing and to see if I can better them…or even just better myself.

Would I do another virtual run? Yes I would. The experience was interesting, it opened up new groups of people online to talk to and interact with. Do I think the virtual run is the future of running races? Not yet. The experience needs to be refined. I like running and a virtual run, as much as any other, gives me something to train for. But it doesn’t yet provide the experience, the excitement, the challenge and the occasion that a real run does. The online experience needs to be evolved to fill this void, to fill us with the urgency and excitement that we would otherwise feel when being in that place with those people. The gaming world provides this, so why not bring some of that gamification into the virtual running world? It will happen, of that I have no doubt. For now I will have to be content with knowing that I ran a good time and waiting for my medal to arrive in the post!

App-lying a digital strategy

Like many people, I’m a self confessed shark geek, particularly Great White sharks. They are a passion of mine, be it watching the hilarious spoof films like Sharknado, Double Headed Shark Attack and Shark Swarm (yes, these are all real films!), following the shark week documentaries that come around annually and show ever more detailed insights into the life of these misunderstood animals, or admiring some of the amazing photography of Great White sharks clearing the water off seal island in South Africa. One of the things all shark lovers are aware of is the stigma they have, particularly due to the adverse media coverage after shark attacks on people or because of films like Jaws – a masterpiece but possibly the worst thing to have happened for the reputations of sharks world wide.

But in recent years the general perception of these animals has begun to change, largely due to the work of many organisations, scientists and television program makers who are determined to show the real side to sharks. This is particularly important in the light of the current threat to many species of shark due to over fishing and of course the barbaric shark fin market. One particular organisation I follow is Ocearch, who have a great website that allows you to track sharks from around the world, to see their movements and all sorts of great information about them. Shark geek heaven!

But despite this, a lot of the time I tend to find that when I start to get animated about sharks most people don’t really know what I am on about. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise when my wife and I were in Ireland the other day seeing some friends of ours that when the subject of sharks came up, our friends immediately started to talking about Lydia without any sort of prompt.

For those of you who aren’t up with the latest shark news, Lydia is a fairly large Great White shark who in February had been making her way across the Atlantic in the direction of the UK. As you can imagine, for layman shark geeks like myself the potential of a Great White coming to UK waters was rather exciting, but it also caused a bit of a stir in the scientific community as questions began to be asked about why the shark would be going so far ‘off course’.

The fact that two relatively non-shark geek people knew about Lydia was both a surprise and an encouragement for me. It shows that people are beginning to learn more about these fantastic creatures and rely less on the rather inaccurate reputations they have. It prompted me to look closer at this and particularly Ocearch, who are doing a huge amount to allow this discovery for normal people.

One of the things Ocearch do is that they bring their activities into the social world in a great way. The Lydia activity is, of course, a godsend in terms of getting the general public excited, but what Ocearch do is so much more important than that. For a start Ocearch have a very active Twitter and Facebook community. Their tracking of sharks of perfect content for regularly updates and the continuously changing situation means that users have a reason to check back a lot. They also have a YouTube and Instagram presence, which is prefect for sharing the incredible footage and shots that they get on their voyages, and a regular blog scene to offer opinion about the work they are doing.

Recently they also launched the Ocearch Shark Tracker app, enabling me to see where Lydia and a whole host of other sharks are, whenever I have a minute spare. It becomes addictive I can tell you.

Ocearch Shark Tracker App

 

Now I’m not going to review the app specifically in this post. Yes, like most new apps there are things that could be improved, and no doubt will be, as is true of the website. Or indeed any website. What I am going to do though is to look at what they have achieved, why that is important and what we can all learn from them.

Ocearch is a non-profit organisation who are undertaking research on sharks and other apex predators. They make all their research available open source to anyone who wants it, with the view that this is the most effective way to help understand these animals. But what they are doing with their content is possibly more important because they are getting the public involved and allowing them to feel a part of it. And this is what people can learn from what Ocearch are doing. Getting funding for this sort of thing is hard enough, so getting public interest up is a great way to help. Ocearch have managed to not only lift the public interest but at the same time turn it into a kind of entertainment and a great educational tool at the same time.

The reason why this is working so well is that Ocearch have engaged with social media in a faultless manner. They have all of the key ingredients to be successful; regular and interesting content, suitable content for each stream, they engage with their users and they offer something that is not very available anywhere else. It is compelling reading and watching and it brings enthusiasts like myself together in one place. There is a lot that other scientific institutions could learn from the great PR and marketing that is being done here.

So what is my point? Having a digital strategy, no matter what your business is, is incredibly important. Whether we like it or not the world is digital now and if your business isn’t their then you will be being left behind. This is true for almost all organisations, but for non-profit organisations, charities and foundations this is especially true as budgets are small. But unlike businesses, these other organisations will have a regular stream of compelling, interesting and engaging content at their heart. Ocearch have made and continue to make the most of what they have, which is no doubt not done on a shoe string, in order to get the maximum impact. Their digital presence is consistent and draws you in but more importantly it means that they get a large amount of coverage of the work they are doing…and that is the most important thing.

Intelligent use of digital means that your message can be spread far and wide. It would be great if other organisations could do the same as Ocearch, as this is the best way to educate the world and hopefully to get more support for the great work that organisations like this are doing.

Who are the social ones?

There is a fascinating phenomenon online which is to do with how people interact with content (the roles they assume). It is not unique to online but is relevant when looking at how you want to disseminate content and knowing who and where to target to have biggest effect. To summarise this lets use Facebook as an example. Generally speaking within Facebook you get 3 types of users:

  • Watchers

This type of user tends to watch their Facebook wall and browse the content others have posted but will not actively respond to it. For example, someone might post a link to an interesting article and this user will go and read the article and read the comments but will not click the ‘like’ link or comment themselves. They are what I would describe as ‘passive’ users of the site.

  • Followers

The next step up from a Watcher is a Follower. This type of user will also watch and read content as it arrives but will also ‘like’ and ‘share’ the content again. A typical interaction would be that a friend posts a humorous photograph so they will ‘like’ it and then ‘share’ it on their own wall. These users are responsible for dissemination of content at rapid speed and are the users that enable ‘viral’ spread. I would describe these users as ‘passive-active’ users.

  • Contributors

The next step up from Followers are Contributors. These are people who get involved with the content and conversations that are going on and respond. A typical interaction in this case would be that a friend posts a comment on their wall and a Contributor will respond, offering their own opinion. This type of user is someone who will willingly offer opinions on subjects they care (and sometimes don’t care) about. It is unusual to have a Contributor that isn’t also a Follower or Creator. A rare example of someone who is just a Contributor though are those described as “trolls”; users who look for things to comment on in order to provoke responses and arguments. I would describe these users as ‘active’ users.

  • Creators

Finally there are Creators. These are users who actively post new content on Facebook that they have created themselves. Often this will be in the form of statuses but can be more such as videos, photos and the like. There tend to be fewer creators than there are other types of user. I describe these users as ‘active-integrated’.

This idea of segregating people into user types is not a new idea. Similar studies have been done in the past such as this study in America. Every way of segregating tends to follow the same theme but why is it important? Well the key thing is to know how these roles work if you want to release your own content into the ‘social media wild’ because if you target the right roles then you will have more success.

An additional factor is the idea of influential users within these roles. A famous person, such as Stephen Fry, who is an active-integrated user will have a huge amount of followers, a large amount of whom will be in the role of ‘Follower’. So if you are able to get him to post about your content, or even contribute to it, then his followers will share this because they are his followers. This is viral in action.

So when planning a marketing campaign for a release, a key action is to identify key influential people who will talk about or repost your content. Ideally you want these influential people to review it in their own words, in the guise of a ‘Creator’. If it is in their own words then their followers will then share this even more willingly and so your content goes viral. The diamond in the rough is to have an influential ‘Creator’ post about your content who has a large amount of influential ‘Contributors’ following them. This results in rapid viral spread as it filters out across the net.

On the flip side, if you don’t actively target people then a lot of your content will fall upon the watchers of the world and just fizzle out. It is entirely possible for content to go viral naturally but if you don’t plan and target then this is much more by luck than judgement. Of course, the most important thing in the end is that your content is interesting, otherwise it will fall flat anyway.

Evolution or devolution?

A colleague of mine recently posted a link to ’23 Pictures That Prove Society Is Doomed’ on a well known social media site. It is a collection of amusing photos and captions that try to make the point that society must be doomed if we all feel the need to spend every waking moment with a phone in our hands. The below is one such image, that bore the introduction “This adorable picture of star-crossed lovers meeting for the first time”:

2. This adorable picture of star-crossed lovers meeting for the first time

From http://www.buzzfeed.com Via: empoweredteensandparents.com

At face value this page is quite amusing and many might find it “sad”, but I in fact find it a rather cynical and cheap attempt at a laugh that almost entirely misses the point. I’ll tell you why.

With all of these amusing little ‘insights’ into society, the pictures are a collection of amusing captions added to images that are taken completely out of context. At first they are amusing but soon it becomes quite obvious that the images have little to do with the situation the caption suggests. However, I can’t use this as a practical reason to criticise as the pictures are just demonstrations of situations we have all seen in real life. I have been present at a lunch of friends and suddenly looked up at a moment of silence to see they were all on their phones.

My main problem with this is the assumption that these situations are a negative thing. To explore this point further it is necesary to understand what these pictures actually show, rather than take it as read that the people are just being ‘anti-social’.

Like language, our behaviour evolves with time to suit the world we occupy. In the 1970s the young generation became the generation who sat around listening to the music of the day on the radio, enjoying the raucous behaviour of outrageous DJs and generally ‘rebelling’ against their parents who would rather they sat downstairs and have polite conversation. Similarly when I grew up the age of the games console had arrived and young teenagers would sit in their bedrooms playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario. No doubt in those situations their parents were talking about how society was doomed. In the late 90s and early 2000s SMS took the mantle and this was the start of people staring at their phones. In the film ‘Clueless’ Alicia Silverstone’s character is seen having a conversation on her mobile with her best friend and as she comes around the corner her friend is there. Without skipping a beat they hangup and continue their conversation. Some would say that this demonstration of not being able to go a single second without talking to a friend was a sad state of affairs, but actually it is the next stage in the evolution of human interaction. At no time in history, prior to this era, has it been possible for us to interact directly with each other unless we were in the presence of each other. Mobile phones changed this and opened up the opportunity for social interaction to extend to an almost unlimited stage.

So how does this relate to the situations depicted in the amusing images on buzzfeed? To me it is a demonstration of the next stage of social interactivity evolution. We now use so many more ways to interact with each other than we have ever done before. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Skype, SMS, Email, Instant Messaging, the list goes on. And all of these are usable on a mobile device. We are in a time poor world where our appetite to consume media, share it and interact with our colleagues and friends is higher than ever, with more ways to do this than before as well. More so, we have the ability to do this seemingly whenever and wherever we choose to, as our world has become mobile.

I am not saying that staring at a phone should replace the need for conversation, far from it. But what is happening, in my experience at least, is that the art of conversation is changing. It is no longer 100% about verbal exchange, the conversation is now multi-medium and continues across social media, instant messaging and verbally. One conversation can continue over the course of hours, as a connected set of short interactions fitting around other things, rather than a short face to face conversation that takes place as a single stream. The result of this is that our habits are changing when we are together. We are now in an age where it is acceptable (most of the time) to check the news, or social media, in between bites of conversation, rather than continually being 100% engaged in one conversational stream.

Is this the end of civilized society and the art of conversation as we know it? No, I don’t believe so. It is the start of the next phase in social evolution. We have come a long way since we sat around fires exchanging stories and our world is less and less reliant on tactile interaction as the core way to maintain communication and relationships. People have long lasting and deep friendships with people they have never actually met, which have more meaning that those they have with people they see all the time. Business are beginning to embrace a model where their workers don’t even work in an office and instead are a network of resources who communicate through the digital ether.

It is a difficult transition for many of us to make, as we move toward a world that is more and more like a sci-fi movie and less like a traditional social gathering. We are the generation that spans the gap between a world where mobile phones, CDs and computers were rare and few and a world where every person has a wristwatch the carries every detail about them around as a digital profile. Being glued to your phone…devolution or evolution? Or maybe it is a glimpse into the future that is just around the corner?