What is the point of social media?

Or: What happened to good old conversation?

Perhaps you will find this a weird question but I have been wondering about this for quite some time. A couple of recent experiences bring me to write about this. What I did was to ask simple questions on postings from food companies on LinkedIn. One was from a US potato company claiming that “children’s palettes are becoming more adventurous” meaning that children are more inclined nowadays to try exotic flavours. So far so good. I just asked if the word should be palettes or palate, knowing well that the latter is the right spelling. They never replied nor even corrected the spelling error. That surely spelled quality to me… Another disappointing attempt to interaction was my asking a large US retailer what they charge for a delivery under a posting showing their new driverless vehicle delivery to consumers. I did not think that it would be a particularly challenging question since it is rather normal that potential customers ask for a quote. I get that all the time and that is the most normal thing in the world when you run a business. I did not get any reply but noticed some time later that their original posting had been removed and a new “immaculate” posting appeared. So, of course, if you want to treat me like that, I have no other choice than to rewrite the same question in the comment section of the new post. Finally someone –who is no employee of the retailer by the way- answered and told me $6 per delivery. I replied to him by saying thank you, because I have manners.

To me, social media seems to be just a one-way communication tool. Some would go as far as to call it narcissistic. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. As such, I do not see anything wrong about businesses telling their story and showing off a bit. If you want to sell, it is good to get out there and advertise. The problem is when there is no reply or just a standard reply, the kind you can sniff from further away than butterflies spot a mate because it is a clinical and impersonal message, almost like a robot just carries out what it programmed to do.

We live in a world where never ever before, there have been such amazing possibilities to connect and interact and yet, it seems to create mostly addictive bubble behaviour. It is almost like smart phones has become a combination of safety blanket, umbilical cord and excuse to ignore the other people around. I like to interact because I think that is what humans are supposed to do when they want to do something together. Unfortunately, I find it a lot more difficult than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Personally, I like LinkedIn. It helps me follow people, many of them have become good friends, and to know about their whereabouts and professional activities. I exchange messages with them once in a while to keep the connection literally alive and my experience is that my contacts and I always feel great about that. What I do not like on LinkedIn is getting requests to connect from people who do not know me and do not really care about me, either. The first thing I do is to send a message asking them to tell me about them and to get to know each other before I decide to actually complete the connection process. You probably guessed it; I hardly ever get a reaction and/or the slightest response. If someone wants me to connect, they’d better show a bit of interest and invest a few minutes of their lives. It is clear that the purpose of such requests is for the other party to look important by being in the league of 500+ contacts, not to mention those claiming to know millions of people. Yeah, I would like to ask them to name all of them by name. I do not have 500+ contacts on my profile but you can bet that I know them all. What is the point of having contacts you do not know and do not even try to get to know if you do not interact? Do you really think that anyone of them will care for you and help you? I think not, simply because those who play that game are just as self-centered as you.

I used to be on Twitter but I end up leaving. All I could see were people doing self-promotion and totally ignoring any interaction. The number of users that would follow me and unfollow me simply because I would follow them was ridiculous. I follow people when they have something interesting for me. If not, and I do not see any chance of that changing, I just do not want to overload my tweet feed with stuff of no use to me.  It is not that there is no interaction on social media. Of course, there is some but I do not find that it provides enough of that for me to spend time on those platforms and the quality of it is, well, variable. Instead of dialogue, what I see a lot are monologues that go parallel along each other, a bit like traffic separated by a median. This is particular true when it is about pro-this and anti-that communicating, and food and agriculture have quite a bit of those. The tribes clearly do not want to come to the negotiation table. They preach to the choir, which is great because nobody disagrees. Since there is no dislike button (great for social media platforms businesses but less so for honesty and integrity), they never have to know about those disagreeing, which is safe, especially since it seems that one of the characteristics of social media users is fragile ego and thin skin, you know the kind full of bottled anger and so much bile their skin turn orange. The logic of the tribes is that if you disagree with them, you not only have to be wrong, but you are evil and they hate you.

A few weeks ago, I was on a website looking for a recipe for spaghetti squash (delicious stuff by the way) and as I scrolled down the page, I got in the comment section and oh boy! Someone who was asking a simple question about whether you could bake the squash whole instead of cutting it in half, got insulted as he apparently his question proved he was an idiot to some. Then others defended him and the whole thread turned into a forum filled with mostly profanities and very little culinary advice. That is one of the problems I find with social media. The mob instinct and even lynching behaviour pops up really quickly because it is so easy to do it safely behind a computer and hiding behind an alias or being anonymous. And all it takes is as benign as a spaghetti squash recipe! It is a bit worrying.

Technology offers great possibilities but as I always say and have written in a number of occasions on this blog, it is only worth what the users make of it. I believe it is possible to discuss differences without immediately feeling threatened or under attack. Other people have the right to have their own opinions. But I also believe that a conversation, even about controversial topics must remain civil. Only bullies think that being polite is a sign of weakness. If you find them, ask them what happened to some of the bullies in my old school yard then they thought I was a polite kid. Similarly, I could tell you about some of the exchanges I have had online with anti-GMO bullies as well as pro-GMO bullies who could not stand to hear an objective take on the subject. I guess the Jiu-Jitsuka in me came up and the conversations ended up really quickly with the bullies being put back in their places in less than a sentence each time.

I have not mentioned Facebook yet, simply because I did not like their questionnaire before opening an account. I found they were way too curious. You will not find me on there and frankly, I see so much similar behaviours on Facebook as I see on the other social media. I can use my time better.

Perhaps, all those flaws are just teething problems and it will sort it itself out on the long-run. In the meantime, I will stick to my interest of good-old fashioned conversation. There is always something to learn from a good conversation. The flip side of that coin is that you will not learn if you do not engage in conversation. And how can you grow without learning? Just like you will not get to win the Olympic gold by refusing to do competition, suffer, lose and cry once in a while, being challenged and pushed back is what helps you improve and outperform others. It builds character and makes you a better person. And this is not just true for sports; it is true in all aspects of life, professionally as well as personally. I am always in for interaction when it is to make things better in a positive and constructive manner. You know where to find me (hint: contact page), that is if you wish.

© 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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