… but mostly I want to talk about The Good.
Yesterday I "interviewed" Andrew Fry for City Club's lunch program about social media. I thought Andrew talked about some great topics and his story-telling was really great. An all around great program.
A lot of the topic was dedicated to the above questions: what's good, bad, and ugly, about social media. And that makes a lot of sense for a 45 minute presentation.
But to me, the good waaayyy outweighs the bad. Since I didn't delve into it yesterday (and I shouldn't have, it was Andrew's program, I was just asking the questions) I want to touch on it here.
Yes, I recognize that Facebook and social media in general is often a time suck. But man, it's helpful too.
Productivity and Work
It helped me sell copies of The Saints Go Dying. For work, when I needed a photographer in Los Angeles, it helped me find 5 of them (5!) in less than 10 minutes. When I need an interesting photograph for City Club's site, I go to Flickr and I search for interesting photos I can use on the site for free (these are called "attribution-only licenses" as part of the Creative Commons project). And I have to add Wikipedia to this list, a social media tool that is incredibly helpful to me (I'm there daily at least).
When something big happens, I go to Twitter first. It's a real-time information network. Two weeks ago when Congresswoman Giffords was shot, Twitter has the fastest stream of links to information that I found. When I was sitting in a restaurant and everything rumbled, I learned from Twitter long before anywhere else that it was the sonic boom. My friend Matt put it best: "I can't think of the last time I found out about something major from a source other than Twitter."
Making the World More Interesting
Without YouTube, I never would have seen a video of weightless cats. Of a bizarre but addictive hand-dance video. Of a World Cup soccer game re-enacted with legos. Simple entertainment? Yes. But joyful and fun. And what's wrong with that?
This is a big one.
Twitter and blogs helped me organize events and meetups around technology in Tacoma.
The Tacoma Runners are an entirely self-organizing group that started on Facebook and Twitter. More than 55 people on average meet up on Thursday nights, run, and then get a beer. They've had as much as 100 people, and they have to plan ahead with the bar they go to after the run to make sure they have enough staff.
Take Dan Savage. The Editor of The Stranger creates a video telling gay kids who are bullied that "it gets better" and to tough it out through high school. Then more people made videos. Then more and more people made videos. Hillary Clinton made one. Barack Obama made one. David Cameron made one (Prime Minister of the UK if you didn't know that). Someone made a music video (NSFW and with lots of vivid language). Before social media, there would be no way that you could create a project like this that would span continents and get at least two heads of state involved–with everyone just doing it for free, no less. But it was a good idea, people had the tools (a camera and a computer), and so they just made them.
We can organize now in ways we never could before. Lots of people are investigating whether Twitter has been helpful to Iranians or Tunisians to organize as they protest their governments. Concrete evidence is hard to come by, and I'm not going to go out on a limb to say either way. But even if it hasn't been helpful in Iran or Tunisia, I think it's very clear that in some not-so-distant revolution it will be.
There are of course bad and ugly sides to social media. But in terms of scope, I don't think that they hold a candle to the incredibly powerful tool it's put into our hands.