January 13, 2011
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects – Histories of Social Media
The current obsession with social media didn’t necessarily come from genius programmers, or Internet wizards. According to Jonathan Salem Baskin, in his book Histories of Social Media, the social element that drives these sites has been developing for centuries—by groups as seemingly disparate as revolutionary France, the Roman Empire, and certainly cavemen. However, the book is not just about how people communicate, but what can happen when groups of them do so. Throughout history, technology hasn’t been necessary for people to unite and accomplish things. Now, Baskin argues, with the help of technology, less ideal outcomes of communication are rampant.
Introducing the first chapter and setting the tone for the book, Baskin writes that “Crowds are usually led by autocrats who are ultimately no better than the institutions they replace, and sometimes worse.” Social media is a technologically enhanced and supported situation where groups can, and do, go wrong in their leadership, messaging, and call to action. Or as the author states, “What are you going to do when the next conversation starts demanding that heads roll?” Many will view this as extremism, and perhaps it is, but it is curious to understand the concept of “herd mentality” on the one hand, and on the other say, “let’s source that.”
Through multiple political and cultural examples, Baskin identifies that the Internet is a place that offers much individual freedom, but also creates new arenas for influence, power, and control—each of which can transfer into offline disasters. But Histories of Social Media isn’t anti-technology; it is simply technology-agnostic, showing that group dynamics existed before the Internet and that the crowds of people on the Internet aren’t necessarily wiser or less prone to folly than their predecessors offline.
The really interesting aspects of this book are its researched and insightful observations, observations that are so different than the multitude of books heralding the blessings and influence of social media. Hopefully, it will help both social media participants (and non-participants) better understand and be conscientious about the social groups and situations they’re participating in.