The "Social Media" Thing is Not About Technology, It's About the Mind : Cities Are Social Medias Too

I've just came across a post by Ben Carr, "It's time We Define Social Media", an invitation to clarify what we mean by "social media". I must say I don't totally agree with his definition of social media, but it's a nice starting point. Here is it :

" Social Media is the use of electronic and Internet tools for the purpose of sharing and discussing information and experiences with other human beings in more efficient ways."

I'm probably too Sociology-focused but there's something crucial missing there : the nature of human interactions. According to my humble definition, cities are social medias as well and what's happening with the web already happened with the emergence of metropolies to some extent.

Sociologist Georg Simmel wrote a very nice text in 1903 called "The Metropolis and Mental life" in which he notoriously defined the notion of blasé. But more interesting, he claimed that cities reshaped social interactions and had an impact on individual minds. Indeed, anecdotal things such as seeing hundreds of faces everyday, not knowing your neighboors, being anonymous, changed our perception of life, of others...and the way we think about action.

Now, that's also what's happening with the web. The web modifies social interactions and ties. Following your friends on Twitter and reading their status on Facebook stimulate your nervous system in radically new ways. It's changing the way we think about others.
We're just so aware of what everybody's doing it's insane.

So, Ok, the web is a technology, a city is not a technology. But both are Social Medias.

Let's try a first definition of my own :

A Social Media is a set of rules shaping social interactions both quantitatively and qualitatively. It defines the emotional or physical "distance" between each of us. Social Medias have an impact on the way we think about others and thus collective actions.

According to this definition, both cities and the web are Social Medias.

If you want to know more about Urban Sociology, check out the Chicago School on Wikipedia.


Unknown said...

Hello Digital Shaman,

This is an intelligent and thought-provoking post. I think social media is an asset for friends who wish to stay in contact and emotionally close. Here's a question though: how do you think social media operates for those who have 30-40 friends vs. those who have 400-500 friends?

digital shAman said...

Hi, thanks for your comment.
"An asset for friends who wish to stay in contact and emotionally close"
Yes, I agree, a social media shapes your interactions with your friends, but also the way you meet new people... A digital and occasional tie between two "real world" friends is not equivalent to a 100% digital tie.. But we would need an impossible typology of social ties...

The size is probably a very important factor.. I think you can become addicted to social networking but at the end of the day, you have to classify your "friends" because you can't treat hundreds of people like close friends... So I don't know.. But you help me realize that I consider a "social media" like something that dominates us.. Anyway I think we still have a lot to understand..