I was preparing for a keynote speech to be delivered in front of a large audience of high school media teachers ahead of their professional development day.
What might be interesting for you to know is that my second gig of the day, with that same group, was to be a session on ‘how to create engaging social media content’, but that was cancelled.
The truth is that I wasn’t surprised when I found out that my social media content session was cancelled. That’s because it was only about a week or so after the release of a documentary called The Social Dilemma in which we all found out about the perils of social media and we got to see the grim reality of how our personal information is used for commercial purposes (you may be thinking “tell me something I don’t already know!”).
While people know me as knowledgeable on all things social media, I must confess that I became discouraged and depressed after watching the show. So much so that, I uninstalled social media apps from my phone and I was offline for a while.
Yes, social media is currently getting grilled for being ‘evil’. Its user base is vast and, for that very reason, it’s uber useful for most of us. At the same time, we may feel that they seem to have power over us or that we’re being manipulated.
At this juncture, I would like to remind you that social media platforms are not the only ones with those characteristics.
Not so long ago, TV as a medium used to be criticised for its bad influence on people. That criticism went on for a long time. But TV now has more than 70 years of refinement. While it is still not ideal, we have a set of rigorous regulations and there are regulatory bodies around the globe for television programs. Looking at the current situation, not only did TV never go away, but it’s also been going through a renaissance thanks to streaming services.
How about books? The human race has been burning books routinely since 210 BCE. Book burning has been a demonstration of censorship or dissent on particular cultural, political and religious views. Imagine the times when cultural discourse used to be tightly controlled by the learned, pious and powerful religious elite. Then came the printing press which allowed the masses to write and read all kinds of ‘rubbish’. Books never went away either.
The point I’m trying to make, if it’s not clear by now, is the fact that social media are no different and, if anything, it simply needs more time for maturity. TV had more than seven decades and books have had thousands of years. Social media? They haven’t been around nearly long enough.
As far as I can tell, we are faced with two choices.
One, we disengage and deactivate our accounts as suggested by The Social Dilemma documentary. Two, we actively engage and shape conversations, while being mindful of what we consume and create.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is this. The documentary failed to point out a fundamental aspect for content creators. We content creators, wherever we are, have a tremendous responsibility of creating content to help our future generations. We also cannot simply disengage hoping that current regulatory bodies will get their act together sooner rather than later. Besides that, it’s not all bad news. We may have some nefarious brands and personalities online. But we also have millions of people doing their thing – creating magic if we were to call it that – making positive changes everywhere. Social media may be a vast landscape, but in reality, it works in millions of tiny ‘ponds’ with our immediate connections through to small and large private groups.
And most importantly, our clients are on social media. And so many of our young people today started their education through YouTube way before their official schooling. Social media aren’t going away.
Borrowing a line from Matthew McConaughey, I’ve decided to be less impressed with what’s happening around me and to become more engaged with what I can do in social media for the people who would like to hear from me.
In the end, there are no right or wrong choices we could make. The only thing that I could say is each choice will have consequences. With that, social media apps are now back on my mobile phone. I’m more mindful than ever about the content I’m consuming while using these apps.
As I was preparing for that keynote (the content you just read!), I came across this passage from the book Joyful Wisdom. Apparently, after leading several years of ascetic life, the Buddha realised that:
…true freedom lies not in withdrawal from life, but in a deeper and more conscious engagement in all its processes.
P.S. Incidentally, the cancelled session is going ahead for a different group early next year, so I’m back to developing content for ‘creating engaging social media content’. One can never tell how things turn out!