I dined recently at a fabulous Tel Aviv restaurant with Ayelet Noff and Motti Peer, partners and heads of Blonde 2.0, a site helping companies use social media better. The two are young and handsome, and their clients are some of Israel’s most dynamic and the world’s largest. People who succeed with a smile. They’re very personable, seem totally up on what’s going on right now, and from all indications they’re good at what they do. But I didn’t feel totally at ease despite their kindness, openness, intelligence and hospitality. Why?
It’s not easy to sort out why.
I have my doubts about social media, doubts that come less from their usefulness than from my position as an independent journalist, a freelancer.
Always “on the outside,” I’ve never “belonged” to an institution. It’s hard to manage on the benefits side, but it’s easy to live the life so well expressed in the phrase “small is beautiful.” But things are much more complicated today, as social media is radically disrupting the relationship between groups and individuals.
We have choice instead of submitting.
We connect instead of belonging to something or someone. There’s a huge difference.
But connecting to, and therefore with, is an act neither neutral nor innocent. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years now, without being able to overcome my reticence, or convince myself that I need to. Without it really being clear why.
I don’t necessarily trust whatever’s in style, what everyone thinks is the right thing to do at a given moment, and I’m not ready to share with the whole world. Being on the outside also means keeping one’s shadows, one’s secret gardens. I want to be able to choose better, not be part of some file, be less known and discoverable in databases.
My hosts that evening didn’t share these doubts. Or not the same doubts I had. It even seemed like they were wondering if a senior could understand the beauty, fascination and inevitability of social media.
I need to mention that I started things off by asking if they were afraid of a backlash, people putting the brakes on their social media use, another bust. It’s a concern.
These doubts were made more serious by the fact that, the day before the dinner, I had the chance to meet with Yossi Vardi, who’s my age but is known as the godfather of everything IT in Israel. When I asked him what he thought of today’s major trends, he said he believed, not in something like social TV, but in the growing importance of “friends” in e-commerce, and that sites “that don’t have social elements won’t survive.” Everything social is big for this visionary, who’s rarely been wrong in the last few decades.
At the same time, a few minutes before saying this, he had pointed out, among the piles of books crowding his desk, a copy of the fantastic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by the Scottish journalist Charles Mackey in 1841. The book denounces the madness of crowds, their irrational beliefs whether in alchemy, witch hunting, or the tulipmania that occurred in 17th century Holland. Vardi knows that you need to keep a critical distance from what others are doing.
The intellectual response to all this is easy: conversations and relationships are the heart of our social lives; we have the best ways to express them; and, therefore, social media and social networks are here to stay. We have to adopt them, use them as well as we can (maybe to the detriment of enterprise social-media strategy companies like Blonde 2.0) and, no doubt, fight for users to have more real control.
But this doesn’t solve my own hesitations. Maybe they’re because of my age, my life as an independent journalist or something else. Something else that you feel, perhaps.