Socially shrewd

'Who needs customers when you have
friends, fans and followers?!'
It's been a week of imparting knowledge for me as I continue to tour the business to deliver our social media practitioner day course. Last week I had a great time presenting to the new students of our Highways Academy in Wyboston Lakes training centre. What's encouraging is that there is a real appetite from people to learn more and one common theme that is agreed on by all is that for business Social Media is a no-brainer - even if you're only just listening.

However, I have noticed an increasing number of people deciding that on a personal level it is something in which they no longer want to partake. I think that one reason for this may be that the popularity of Social Media grew so fast many people didn't realise the far reaching implications of what they had signed up for. This education of how the internet is still changing our world needs to be emphasised at a young age, and as a father myself, I feel it is my duty to really ensure that my children are discerning enough to correctly understand what Social Media (and the internet in general) is and how it can be used/abused.

Far from simply demonising Social Media education on the subject cannot be underestimated to ensure we are not ignorant of its evils. You would not expect someone to be able to drive a car without extensive training and a certain level of maturity so why should the use of the internet be any different? It is an increasingly large part of our modern world and simple avoidance is just not possible as anyone with a computer, mobile phone and internet connection is vulnerable, either at home or work.

In my training I begin by putting social media into context and stating that I believe we are currently in the biggest period of expressive human capability in history. There have been four significant periods of this in the last few centuries with the invention of:
  1. The printing press
  2. The telegraph/telephone
  3. Recorded media - photography, audio and film
  4. Radio and television 
This is the landscape every one of my generation grew up with and as soon as they were invented there were people using them for good and sadly, as is human nature, abusing them. As the technology increased so did the propensity for evil. What these all have in common are that there are limitations in that the ones that were good at creating conversations (i.e. telephone) were bad at creating groups, and the ones which are good at creating groups (i.e. television) could only address everyone with the same message. The invention of the internet was to take this to another level...

Suddenly this became the mode of carriage for every other media (e.g. eBooks, Skype, YouTube and iPlayer) meaning that all of the above existed right next door to each other. By this occurring the usage and possibilities were quadrupled and so were the dangers.

However, the real change is that each consumer who joins the internet is also a producer - they can write a blog, upload a video, even broadcast live to the world. This is where Social Media comes in as by having a WiFi connection in your home you're allowing ready access to anyone’s opinion to be piped directly in uncensored. It goes without saying that careful monitoring and effective blocks are essential.

It has taken a while for people to wise up to this but essentially the internet is more powerful and dangerous than any communication medium before it. The dangers are many, some of which have been well documented in the form of cyber-bullying, copyright infringement, impersonal communication and screen addiction. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are really just the tip of the iceberg with other channels such as Snapchat, Periscope and potentially being much more sinister propositions.

What I have taken from this is that I want to bring my children up in a way where they fully understand the implications of what they do online and can make intelligent choices on how they decide to engage with it and encourage an open and honest relationship where will can talk about it together. I am massively thankful that some of the immature and stupid things I did when I was young are not documented anywhere! As human beings one of the most powerful and hard ways to learn is through our own mistakes and despite its many uses the internet/social media is a perilous place when used ignorantly and casually.
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