Social Media isn’t so Anti-Social

Last Friday, at Confab Central, I has the pleasure of hearing Nilofer Merchant prepare us for the future. Her advice was simple:

“Stop saying ‘if it happens,’ and start asking ‘how will I handle it?'”

What Nilofer was getting at is that we need to embrace a new mindset. Technology is perpetually advancing, at a faster rate now than ever before, and society is changing as a result. In order to create intuitive products and processes, we need to advance our UX understanding alongside it.

The difficult part is to answer “how” we can embrace change, and here Nilofer delved into details I’ve already recorded. What caught my attention early on however, was a comment she made on what it means to be “social.”

What is “Social?”

“Be social,” she told us. Immediately everyone turned to their neighbor and began talking. Her goal was to remind us that “social” is not specific to social media and other methods of online socialization. But I had never forgotten that “social” could refer to the physical world around us. For me, her words served as a reminder that the online social media world is just as real – and just as social.

“What does it mean, to be social?” Nilofer asked us. Words like “communication,” “friendly,” and “interacting” came up.¬†That’s when the lightbulb went off – none of those words are specific to the online or the physical world. Socializing with a friend on the left may exclude strangers sitting on the right. Equally, being social with Twitter followers may exclude the “IRL” people around you. Somewhere along the way, many of us (myself included) began confusing online social with anti-social. Yet Nilofer reminded¬†us that social doesn’t require technology, and it also doesn’t exclude it.

At one time I imagined the digital world as a continuation or replacement of the physical world. Now, I think the two are both moving forward, changing and evolving in parallel and overlapping tracks.

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