E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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The Fallacy of Social Networking


You may have noticed how over the course of the last couple of weeks I haven’t been much active on the external social networking tools out there that I usually hang out at, such as Twitter, Google Plus or LinkedIn. There are a couple of reasons for that, but one in particular is the one that’s impacting me the most at the moment, since I’m still being affected by it and there is no easy solution to it. And the way things are looking up it seems that it’s going to be like that for a few more years to come. Personally, I am doing just fine. At least, for now. So those folks who may be wondering whether I’m ok, yes, I am. Thanks much for the recent concerns shown upon out there through various social channels. It’s very much appreciated. However, the trouble is that really close friends of mine are starting to suffer, in the first person, and pretty dramatically, the various different consequences from the financial econoclypse we have been experiencing over the last 4 years over here in Spain resulting, eventually, in yours truly not engaging in social networks as much as I used to as the focus has moved elsewhere altogether.

Mind you, the following blog entry is not meant to be negative around the world of social computing and social networking for business (#socbiz), since both my enthusiasm and social evangelism efforts are still intact, just as much as it is an open, out loud reflection of what I have been seeing and noticing over the last few months on the state of social networks out there and how they are consistently detaching ourselves from reality. Our day to day reality. And that’s exactly why over the course of the last weeks I have been reflecting, once more, on what role all of these social technologies should be really playing on how I interact both online and offline. But let’s see first some of the reasons that have triggered, in my mind, the title of this article under “The Fallacy of Social Networking” and see how far off I am. Or I think I am. Like I said, this post is not meant to be negative nor indicative of my lack of enthusiasm around social networking; it’s more a wake-up call from reality which I guess I was very much due to go through at some point in time… And it all happened only last week.

Traditional Hierarchies inside Social Networks – Not So Much an Oxymoron Anymore 

Somehow I am worryingly starting to show not so much interest in seeing how everyone keeps proclaiming consistently how social networking tools are taking the business world by storm changing the way we work, as well as our societies in the way we live in, to then be confronted with realities like the ones expressed on this absolutely stunning interview with Manuel Castells or this other rather interesting and fascinating reflection from Vincenç Navarro on the real issues at stake with how the world is being currently run. Seriously, if you would want to find out who is rescuing whom from today’s financial turmoils, as an example, that article is an absolute must-read one. It won’t leave you indifferent either!

Now, I do realise that both links I mentioned above are in Spanish, so you would probably have to rather have them translated or polish your Spanish skills, but I just couldn’t help thinking about Manuel’s reflections on what’s really happening in today’s world to explain why that financial econoclypse may well not be what we think it is. If you still think that social networking has got anything to do with it all, you would have to think about it, once again! It’s on another level altogether.

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the SpringOn that interview, just to give you a glimpse of what it is all about, he gets to talk about power, about the real power. Not the authoritarian one, but the power of the mind, which gets organised by communication networks, our social networks, stating, quite clearly that, whoever controls communication, controls the mind, and therefore controls the power, which reminds me of the recent speech by the always thought provoking John Hagel at the Social Business Forum earlier on this year in Milan, on the challenge for all of us knowledge workers to fight that well known maxim of “Information is power” and the reluctance from those who have got the information to release that power, specially, in the management and executive layers all the way to the top. So we are starting to see how a good number of hierarchies in social networks are emerging where there are two different types of social interactions: knowledge workers interacting with one another and executives and top managers doing the same, but in a meaningful way just amongst themselves, clearly demonstrating how they are still clinging to their long time standing command-and-control mentality of not releasing that information, therefore, that power, because of fear they may get displaced along the way with the democratisation social networks have been enjoying all along. Talking about that much needed shift on Leadership, don’t you think?

Manuel’s interview would also be a must-watch one if you would want to find out plenty more about the #15M or #Ocuppy movements and what they would mean for all of us in the long term, coming pretty close to a reflection that I shared in the recent blog post “Four Principles for the Open World by Don Tapscott” under this quote: “there is leadership, but not one leader“. Truly fascinating learning how both physical and virtual social networks will be changing and shaping up our perceptions of the role of politics in our society as a result of Netizens 2.0 taking over the online conversations AND the offline actions. His account of the current political system, including the voting system, within Spain and the USA, is incredibly thought provoking on its own! And something that in most cases those folks very much pro-democracy would find shocking, if not too disturbing to watch altogether.

To finish off with that brief summary of Manuel’s interview, and moving way beyond disturbing to describe what he talks about, would be his dissertation of the financial turmoil we are currently going through, what provoked it, how did we end up where we are today 4 years later and which affects, quite clearly, the ill-doings from the finance sector where somehow it looks like there hasn’t been much about both ethics and morale, never mind responsibility, even from the political parties and government(s) in place that are supposed to represent us at the same time, and whose main aim, apparently, according to Manuel, is just to keep their own jobs, so that they can continue doing their business due to their own shortage of skills, wit and talent to go into the private sector. WOW!!! I’m currently using lots of patience while I am writing down these thoughts to try to contain the rage, but I must confess it’s quite tough on its own, given what you will learn from his insights through the second part of the interview. Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Spring 

And this is where things will get very very interesting from there onwards, because he gets to talk about the role of the Internet on how it manages to provide us all with a window of opportunity to be in the know, to find out what’s really happening, to share our information and knowledge across with others, so that we can smarten up in building our very own opinions through massive critical thinking exercises, because we are no longer getting it through traditional mainstream news media thanks to the censorship from both governments and financial institutions… Does it sound all too familiar in other countries? This is probably as good as it gets when you put it in perspective of what a whole bunch of various different governmental entities have been doing over the course of the years to try to put a circle around the Internet and how we use it. Define it whichever way you would want to and you will be right on!

Yes, I know what you are thinking … Once again, here is my Hippie 2.0 hat coming out once again hehe and I guess this time around I won’t be taming it down too well. Rather eye-opening that interview from Manual Castells on this aspect, for sure! Specially, how he describes in a very inspirational manner one of the activities that we seem to be very good at in the world of the Internet: build an Information Mosaic around us through critical thinking, i.e. checking various different news sources, our social networks, our tippers, etc. etc. so that we can form for ourselves much better, and more educated opinions altogether. All of that thanks to that fight of keeping the freedom of the Internet as that: our freedom. And, yes, there is hope at the end of the tunnel: rebuild democracy with people right at the centre of it!


With a Little Help of Friends

Now, that reflection I have just shared above has helped me tremendously to see things in a little bit better perspective, specially, after what I have been witnessing in the last couple of years See? I even finished it up with a positive, moving forward, flavour that we are at the point of no return, past beyond the tipping point of how the Internet is defining who we are as a society, and what purpose, meaning and focus we bring on to the table with it. I guess that’s what blogging / writing does to you. And I am grateful. I am sure by now you are sensing what’s the second reason why I haven’t been much active in the social networking spaces out there in the last couple of weeks, right? More than anything else, because all along I have felt it’s just far too important to ignore it, nor neglect it and I am hoping folks out there who were expecting from me to live social as if nothing happened would understand why I took the decision I did and take some time off to prioritize where I wanted to place my efforts and energy. That second reason, indeed, is that the vast majority of the time that I used to dedicate to external social networks is now dedicated to help those local friends, my offline social networks, any which way I can to get them back on track with their personal specific circumstances, whether financial, family or whatever else related, and that means we have got to get a few things sorted out. 

Now, things are looking up already, thank goodness!, and I would probably say that they are all back in good shape after a couple of rough months with the odd scare here and there, but I must confess that helping them out has been quite an eye-opening experience to help me redefine, at the same time, my overall presence on virtual social networks versus my physical / offline networks: instead of spending plenty of time reading through the typical mumbo jumbo me, me, me and how great I am with my social networking insights for business and whatever else that we are all exposed to, I have decided to ditch those loud speakers blasting out their own marketing messages who add very little into the mix and focus much deeper, instead, just on what I feel I can do with my ¢2: help others in need where I possibly can. Life is just too short to have to spend a large chunk of it listening to those social media experts and gurus, or whatever other fancy term that’s used nowadays, who just want to get into your wallet without asking for anything in return. And then, after they get it, they walk away for their next victim…

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringIt’s thanks to those interactions with my offline social networks when things were getting tougher and dire that one realises how it is now probably a good time to find that purpose, meaning and focus on social business networking for work or for personal use. And that’s just what I have done in the last couple of days. I have gone into my Big Three social networking sites, specially, Twitter and Google Plus, and have moved those gurus into groups and lists away from my main timeline, in an exercise to do some social networking hygiene, reduce the growing noise ratio and incorporate back into the mix the signals I would want to keep inspiring me to do what I do on a daily basis. And so far it’s been quite a refreshing exercise to witness much closer how absorbing it can get following up with what you know, over time, is not going to bring you much business value, or purpose altogether. 

I am sure there will be plenty of folks out there who would realise I may have unfollowed them in either of those networks. It’s nothing personal. I’m hoping that I will be able to bring you back into my social timelines some time soon, but for now I am sensing that the value I used to get from your social insights is no longer as worth as I thought it would be today. So it’s time for me to put them all in quarantine for a little bit, i.e. Twitter Lists and specific Google Plus Circles, to re-evaluate whether I would want to keep up with the interactions or, instead, move on. Feel free to do the same with yours truly. Like I said, it’s nothing personal and I totally understand if you no longer feel I am providing you the business value in our interactions that we once used to have. Perhaps that’s also part of this critical thinking exercise from yours truly to re-evaluate for myself how I keep using these social networking tools to participate in conversations, adding my ¢2 and whatever else. Social just for the sake of social is now dead. Social for the sake of just showing you are out there and want to be noticed is also dead. At least, for me. I had a great time, but it’s time now for me to move on… 

Probably after the summer I will follow-up with another blog entry detailing what the experience has been so far, but one thing for sure that I can tell you right now, is how liberating it’s been to move away from that noise, along with the technology hiccups of catching with that volume of interactions and instead focus on those areas where I feel I can truly help with my knowledge, expertise, know-how, and whatever else. In the offline social networking world, just as much as the online one. 

Social Networking Sites Need to Grow Up into the 21st Century. Thank you very much

Finally, one last reflection to go through… Thanks for sticking around this far. It’s greatly appreciated! Now, I have just mentioned how incredibly tiring it was trying to catch up with the technical issues, hiccups and additional hurdles of keeping up with various social networking sites, and their own technical specifications, where the simple sheer volume of interactions details how ugly things are turning around at the moment, provoking an effect I’m not sure I would want to put up much with anymore: spend the whole day in social networks, just because they feel we have got all of the time of the world to spend it inside each and everyone of them! No, thanks! That doesn’t quite work like that, I am afraid.

I am not sure what you would think but I am beginning to wonder whether Social networking sites are starting to behave in exactly pretty much the same fashion that Instant Messaging clients and IM protocols behaved like over 10 years ago and from which we are still recovering today: IM protocols still don’t talk to each other, fragmenting the networks, the interactions, the conversations. It looks like social networking sites don’t do that either, for that matter, and they are not going to get started now if we look closer into what we are seeing with Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook or even Google Plus themselves. Walled gardens are the new black, apparently. And the funny part is that for those folks who may want to spend their time whole day long hopping from walled garden to walled garden it may well be a good, fun activity. However, I am not sure I would want to walk away that thin line of investing far too much effort, energy, and time in a social networking site that could disappear tomorrow or be acquired, to then be terminated the day after, like we keep seeing in recent times… So much for interoperability of federated, open standard social networks, eh? Gran Canaria - San Bartolomé de Tirajana from Pozo de las Nieves in the Spring

Where did we go wrong? What happened to us? Do we need to show and demonstrate those external social networking sites, once and for all!, what’s been the number #1 factor of their own success? That is, their end-user base making the most of the social technologies, whether developers or early adopters or mainstream end-users to get the job done? Because if that’s the case, I’m more than ready to remind each and everyone of them to remember what’s the single one must-have requirement for those social networking sites to not only flourish, but also to persist over the course of time: end-users sharing their data, their time and their effort for free (Remember we all are the product) over an extended period of time…

Thank goodness, we still have got blogging. Perhaps the purest form of federated social networking out there on the Social Web today that we still have got available to each and everyone of us. A social software tool that’s matured quite nicely over the course of the last 18 years and that I am really excited to see it coming back (Despite what some studies have shown recently) into the Social Web scene and rather strong as you can see from a whole bunch of rather prolific bloggers sharing their insights as to how we are coming back to basics with it all

Perhaps it’s the time for us to show and demonstrate all of those social networking sites out there that there is a life outside of their world and immediate reach of influence. Perhaps it’s now a good time to confirm with each and everyone of them whether we could live without them for an extended period of time, or not, just resorting to blogging to share your thoughts and insights out there with an audience eager to keep learning, just as much as we all are. After all, what are you going to do when all of those social networking sites that you spend several hours per day disappear into thin air, where are you going to go to then? Yes, where are you going to go the day when Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Slideshare, Tumblr, etc. etc. are all gone, because you know that’s going to happen at some point in time, right? Here’s the only one certainty that I have grown to learn and treasure over the course of time and which has caught me big time in the last couple of weeks: your own personal / business blog will always be there, no matter what. 

After all, your own blog will always remain your personal voice, your own opinion, your critical thinking, your brain, your personal and inner reflection time, unbiased; in short, your own personal knowledge sharing and learning system or whatever else out there on the Social Web that you would want it to be in the first place, like it has over the last 18 years and counting … And, whether they like it or not, they can never take that away from you. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

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  1. Bravo Luis! Thank you for this post, I’m glad you are OK, and happy for you and your friends and loved ones that you have been spending time with them, helping in whatever way you can directly in your community. I have felt absent recently from online social networks too, and it has felt weird, but right for me for personal reasons. So, your post really resonates for me. I especially liked that you said, ‘social for social sake is now dead.’

    I may not be doing as deep a re-evaluation as you about my online and offline time. But I do know that the relationships and areas where we can have a direct effect are what really matter. Our choices on how we want to spend our time and energy, and where we can make a difference are very individual and personal. It is up to each of us to choose for ourselves.

    So, cheers to you! And to me. 🙂 May we keep on keepin’ on! <3

  2. Yes, yes, yes.

    I remember throwing out cartons of beloved LP records, video cassettes, and 8 mm home movies, lost forever because the format changed. Facebook and Twitter are transitory. It’s always hazardous to leave anything you want to hold on to in somebody else’s safe.

    As for my blog, I’d never give up my personal printing press. Mine’s been going more than a decade. It’s me.


  3. Nice post, Luis. Love your honesty. Good to hear you are doing fine and hope you find the time to help your loved ones. These times make it extra clear you’re very lucky if you have a job and loved ones around you.
    I also agree with your more critical approach to social business lately. For me it started with the last Summit in Paris. I was wondering: are we really making progress? Are we really learning? And how come social isn’t bringing us more within and outside of companies. Just like the learning organization is harder to reach than we thought. I mean Senge’s book is 20 years old…
    It’s something we should discuss in real life sometime. The darker, more real side of business and social business.
    Good luck to you!

  4. Hi Luis.

    A friend recently reminded me of the tendency of organisations to “co-opt and neutralise” any kind of dissent – that’s exactly what’s happening with social media now – big business is appropriating it and trying to quash it. Of course it is! So now the fight is really on 🙂

    Been thinking about Spain a lot; especially with the Olympics here in London now, memories of Barcelona’92 are flooding back. Hope everything is okay with you and your nearest and dearest – glad you’re spending time offline – it’s good to keep everything in perspective. And shore up your intellectual strength for later!

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