I love swooshing and swiping my screens. Somewhere inside my head I hear a god-like voice – or is it the voice of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard? - commanding the device to “Make it so”. And it happens! Bigger, smaller, up, down. It’s not natural, it’s not human, but it is fun and rewarding.
And I think that’s where the mistake is with early 21st-century social media.
We love broadcasting to the world and updating our timelines – somewhere inside my head I feel like a celebrity, imagining all the adoring fans who are following my every word, every tweet. (In reality it's just one or two friends who I bug until they respond.) And it sort of happens! Diagnostics tell us the hits, people tell us their likes (and dislikes). It’s not interaction, it’s not banter, it’s not a real emotional and creative discourse, but it is fun and rewarding.
When we began developing QUBE, I was adamant about many things. Mostly that it replicated as much as possible the grown-up business environment with the Trojan horse of learning disguised at its core, so that we could achieve the vision of learning without boundaries. I had in mind a Lloyds-style coffee house atmosphere (important to be able to breakout and have sub-conversations) mixed with a Leonardo da Vinci-style artist's studio,* with younger artists learning and applying the skills they needed, showing their sketches to each other, sharing their experiments with each other and surpassing their teacher.
This is human, this is interactive, it’s banter, emotional and creative, and it’s fun and rewarding.
If you’ve seen my Google Zeitgeist talk you will know about ‘Time Travellers’. The strange 19th century habit of commuting to and from an office. (If you don’t, watch the video - it’s very short and very funny.) As long as we continue to pursue the 19th century habit of moving atoms (our bodies) instead of electrons, we will have lots of boring, low-quality time on trains, in queues and in cars. This boring time we will fill using our mobile devices to interact with data. Why? Because although it’s a lower grade experience than interacting with people, it’s better than getting bored. And it avoids the potential awkwardness of social interaction or interrupting what a friend is doing (nothing, they are just composing a text to you!). So we broadcast asynchronously. And we read, and we watch cat videos selectively. It’s not interactive, it’s not banter, it's not emotional and creative, but it is fun and rewarding.
I hope that Facebook 2.0, Twitter 2.0 and other early 21st-century social media platforms will begin to go the same way as QUBE, finding ways to allow people to interact over and above the data-driven activities. The challenge for them will be the business model. With the current business models we are the product, providing them with data and meta-data they can get revenue for.
But I do hope they will try to reinvent themselves. Because I for one don’t want to interact with data, I want to interact with people.
I'm launching a challenge to all involved. Let's make Social Media really Social (with some new learning for our World After Midnight to help people cope and thrive in the 21st-century, hidden inside!)
* I’ve lost the link but idly browsing last week I came across a protest about social media. which is what inspired this blog
** I know Leonardo da Vinci didn’t really have a studio school like the one I’m describing, but I hope you get the point