The Evolutionary Role of Social Media

by Brett Borders on December 1, 2008

Social media is exciting. People sense that a paradigm shift is taking place. Many of us are taking a leap of faith… believing that that social media is “the next big thing.” We’re jumping in, both personally and professionally, trusting it will lead us to something higher and brighter than what we have now.

But what’s it really all about? How will social media affect the evolution of society and our individual consciousness?

Digitally Enhanced Natural Selection

Before social media, people met mostly by accident and proximity. Now people are able to research and make very specific choices about careers, dating, travel, education, and consumer products through trusted recommendations from their online connections… rather than by chance (or under the influence of paid advertising).

Social media is still in a larval stage, the full potential is yet to be realized. image:eNil

By casting my “net” wider and wider with social media, I get all kinds of selection opportunities that I would never have had in the face-to-face or old media world. I get invited to events, hear of job postings, and I meet smart people with amazing skills. Plus, I’m able to make much more informed decisions by getting community feedback and observing digital social proof.

More conscious selections are likely to inspire better companies, families, political movements, online collectives and other building blocks of society in the future.

(One downside of the enhanced selection opportunities is when you get hooked up with weird people that you would never, ever want to associate with if you ran into them “organically.” This happens frequently in online chat rooms and dating sites ;) )

Cultivation of Efficient Multitasking & Information Processing Skills

Old media encourages passive consumption.

Social media forces us to expand our networking skills and information processing capacities.

And if we wish to have a following and influence online… then we need to become consummate producers, authors, critics, and thought leaders.

Social media is also dramatically changing our professional workflow. Two decades ago, we only had to deal with a typewriter, the daily mail delivery, and the occasional phone call. A decade ago business e-mail, a single-tabbed Web browser and Microsoft Word got introduced into the mix. Now we’re blitzed by hundreds of messages, feeds, updates, and requests every day.. and there is a constant pressure to learn new tools and services. It’s turning our 8-hour day into a 16-hour one.

Power users are developing mad mental processing capacity. image: Aranya Sen

Some people are slow and in-adept at processing information. They will get left behind. Others, like the top Digg users and the Twitterati, are freaklishly adept and processing and filtering extraordinary, never-before-imagined volumes of information.

Their superior information processing skills give them a modest amount of influence and competitive advantage now… but I think this kind of information processing skill and social intelligence will be much more highly prized in the future. Social media seems like a training ground for a future “information era” society where uber-multitasking ability, voracious appetite for novelty, and impeccable communication ability are the most desired leadership skills.

Dominance of the Social Media Elite Caste

Becoming highly adept at social media requires a great deal of leisure time. And money – you need a computer, high-speed internet and a mobile device contract. While this may seem standard in the US, Europe and Japan… it’s a relatively elite lifestyle that is well beyond the means of many people in lower classes (i.e., blue collar factory workers) and those in developing countries.

Social media influencers are forming a digital elite caste. image:Ben

The jet set cool hunters, the stay at home moms, the hotshot academics, the established company owners and execs who can delegate the tedious work to others, and the rockstar freelancers who can afford time to frolic in the social media playground are getting a big head start.

The digital divide will increase. Those who have social media-inspired communications and networking skills will get the pick of the most desirable jobs and opportunities. The bands with the best Facebook and MySpace skills will triumph. The social media-savvy recruiters and PR guys will trump the less-connected ones.

Those who can’t efficiently hook anything up using social media will become a kind functionally illiterate, second-class citizen… taking the “leftover” opportunities that the well-connected digital elite don’t want.

Social Media Can Be Like Drugs

Marijuana and psychedelic drugs can sometimes be healthy and beneficial tools when explored by intelligent users – allowing them to piece together new thoughts in the mind, transcend limits and metaprogram new behavioral imprints. But when used by less intelligent beings, they can disrupt and even destroy people’s personal and professional lives…

Social media can also be a passive, indulgent, demotivating pastime. image: 1ncognito

Just as some people get hooked on drugs — lost in a haze of sensation and color — people can become unhealthily addicted to social media… abusing it in a passive and senseless manner.

Social media addiction can ruin people’s professional productivity. Especially if they have a desk job that doesn’t involve much personal interaction. It’s really hard to get excited about counting beans compared to the never-ending candy buffet layed out by Twitter and StumbleUpon. Social media can also disrupt family lives… when teenagers skip dinner to withdraw to the glow of the monitor… or when a digitally-obsessed dad comments on blogs all day long, rather than giving his young kids enough attention.

Successful adaptation to the social media reality involves becoming a conscious, highly discriminating consumer-producer.
Plus heaps of self-discipline. Some people will develop this kind of agility and prosper, others will be content to use social media as an addictive “boob tube” of petty distractions.

What’s Your Vision of the Future?

image: bwr

Is social media the greatest thing ever, or is it an over-hyped waste of time? What exactly is social media preparing us for? How is it causing us to evolve (or to degenerate)? How has it impacted your own personal consciousness and cognition?

And… how do you think a digital advanced, social-media connected future society will be different than the one we live in now?

I’m itching to figure this out… so please leave your insights in the comments below!
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Brett Borders, the author of this article, is a professional copywriter who specializes in increasing website sales and signup rates. I'm available now to write for your website and optimize it for maximum sales and profits. Please contact me now for a free consultation.

  • http://twitter.com/Gayak/statuses/1035855113 Gayak (Gayak)

    Evolutionary role of social media – http://tinyurl.com/5s38yq

  • http://twitter.com/kylejames/statuses/1035187496 kylejames (Kyle James)

    “The Evolutionary Role of Social Media” http://is.gd/9XHW all for you @rachelreuben

  • http://twitter.com/willburrus/statuses/1034825588 willburrus (Will Burrus)

    Great post on this paradigm shift that I have been all giddy about…http://tinyurl.com/5s38yq

  • http://twitter.com/BrianHarnish/statuses/1034515770 BrianHarnish (BrianHarnish)

    The Evolutionary Role of Social Meida – http://tinyurl.com/5s38yq

  • http://twitter.com/applemacbookpro/statuses/1033281245 applemacbookpro (adamjones)

    Reading: “The Evolutionary Role of Social Media ? Social Media Rockstar” ( http://tinyurl.com/5s38yq )

  • http://twitter.com/ericaamerica/statuses/1033003359 ericaamerica (ericaamerica)

    Social Media: who leads, who lags and how it can act like a drug. Social Media Rockstar Blog looks into it: http://tinyurl.com/5s38yq

  • http://www.capturetheconversation.com James Clark

    I think it ups the importance of being engaged in an industry or job that is a true passion for the individual. Without a true passion for the conversation, weighing different points of view and the ferocity to consistently being engaged, one will fail in the application social media as a business tool.

    We see this when individuals who love social media personally, try to cross the bridge into using social media professionally. If their hearts are not in it – they don’t believe in their company’s product or service, or if the industry they actually landed a job in is just another way to collect a paycheck then they will suffer.

  • Brett Borders

    @James,

    Yeah, there is a huge difference between having friends online and enjoying content… and being able to take social media marketing to a professional level.

    What you once enjoyed can become stressful and grueling when it becomes “the daily grind.” Even if your heart IS in it.

  • http://www.wundermarx.com cara good

    The skills that make someone successful in the “real” world — passion, intelligence, command of the language, leadership — define the social media world, too. We want to follow people who entertain and enlighten us. Social media just gives these leaders a wider forum — and people greater ease in connecting with them. I think it is breaking down a lot of barriers.

  • http://www.fantasticEverydayIsFriday.com Kirk Axelson

    I could see where this social media could be like addiction to drugs, been down that path over 6 yers ago. Good thing I can’t type well as I need proofers to proof all my content, or I would get hooked. But again being a widowed father with 3 children I don’t have time to to get to hooked to this social stuff.

    I’m way to busy with my passion to get my business off the ground that this social stuff can wait. But I look forward to see where it all goes. My hat goes off to all of you who can write up a storm!

    Good thing Everyday is Friday!!!

  • http://www.afhill.com/blog Andrea Hill

    Interesting post.. I’ll admit that when I first read the title I thought it was going to be another one of those posts about urgency – if you don’t get “into” social media, you will become obsolete. But I liked how took it one step further to also talk about how social media can help US evolve as a species as well.

    You mention a digital class divide, where those who can most effectively leverage social media for promotion will thrive over those who can’t. I don’t know that I agree entirely (and thank you, this has got my thoughts going in an interesting direction): I believe that as a society we are steadily starting to expect personalization in our activities. Look at Pandora, look at Amazon’s Universal Shopping List. We want a solution that is customized to us.. which becomes less about who has the best promotion and more about the content itself. It’s the notion of the Long Tail, and social media can just facilitate how we share our findings with our communities.

    Hmm, I may have to go dash off a blog post of my own, thanks for the inspiration!

  • http://amsterdambloggingworkshop.blogspot.com/ Leighton Cooke

    Social media can be a full-time job. Your point about the digital divide is a good one. Twitter came of age in Mumbai last week. People learned how to organize themselves in a crisis. Every day we seem to find another use for social media. This is only the beginning.

  • Brett Borders

    @Cara Good,
    I agree! But I think social media makes these skills more necessary.. and it gives us more chance to practice them with people from all over the world.

    @Kirk Axelson,
    I have been very “hooked” on social media for a long time. I used forums and IRC an ridiculous amount during my teenager years.. and I got totally sucked into the whole social networking site thing when it first came out. but just like a drug addict somehow finds the cash and is able to survive… I’ve manage to get by. These days by turning my obsession into a profession.

    Good luck with your business passions!

    @Andrea Hill,
    Two things got me going on my “class-divide” idea:

    1.) In a down economy, jobs only seem to travel far by word of mouth and connections. The digitally unconnected “look in the newspaper, send in a resume” kind of people are going to have MUCH tougher time finding good opportunities. (Didn’t you get your job through social media?)

    2.) I have a friend who is an incredible musician, but is social media illiterate. It feels like hardly anyone (whom he doesn’t know) will ever hear his tunes. Bands that are better at promoting their music on Myspace and posting music blogs will have the potential for an international audience.,.. his will only go to his limited circle of local friends.

    Yes – social media = personalization! One-size-fits all broadcasts and products aren’t gonna fly so well in the sea of infinite choices!

    @Leighton Cooke,
    Things have only just begun! Social media can be used to solve crises.. or maybe it could be used to create them… They claimed that the Mumbai attackers used Google Earth… Now I’m picturing terrorists on Twitter – not a happy thought :(

  • http://freedomwriting.wordpress.com/ Kimberlee

    Excellent thoughts!

    I believe that the social media divide is happening and increasing. Yet, in its own way, it can increase jobs. Your friend with a band could, instead of spending money printing flyers, hire someone to promote his online presence on sites like Myspace. He can benefit from social media without taking time away from his music.

    I will have to think over this post for awhile, it poses a lot of good questions about the future of social media. Thanks!

    Kimberlee

  • Brett Borders

    @Kimberlee,

    Some people might call be classist, but here where I live in Boulder, Colorado… I definitely sense a separation between the well-connected social media elite to the old-fashioned and unconnected.

    And yes, I agree with you that the digital divide will be a great opportunity for social media consultants and marketers!

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  • Angela H

    The digital divide of which you speak is very real. Used to be that we were separated by culture, class, location, access, ethnicity…you name it. But with the advances in communication and the world becoming “flat” and instantaneous, that’s all changed. Then comes the digital phenom of online social networks and another barrier appears. I’m in my mid 40s and am shut out of jobs due to my inexperience in social networks. I have never blogged (wouldn’t know how~), tinker with LinkedIn (jobs, you know?) and am playing with Twitter. However, I’m am slightly only versed in IM (seems old hat now) and that’s all I know…I feel like a dinosaur in the midst of these millenials for whom interactive social media is as natural as breathing.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Angela H,

    You might feel behing but it’s really not that hard to catch up. Why? It all changes really quickly and what’s new now gets old in 6 months or a year. Just dive in there and learn, step by step… make some time for things… don’t tell yourself you can’t do it…!

    YOU CAN cross the divide! My suggestion would be to learn how to use an RSS reader and a Twitter client and spend 2 hours a day on it and you’ll be fine!

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