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Step Away And Step Up: Putting Social Media In Context

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Guest post contributed by Cathy Brooks

It’s that time of year.

A crisp chill in the air, the rich scent of fireplaces beginning to crackle and, of course, the ever-present commercialism of the holidays. The truth, though, is that this time of year brings an opportunity for something more important – the opportunity to take stock of things for which we’re thankful, to connect with loved ones and to look ahead to the New Year thinking about how we want to up our game just a little bit more.

Peering through the lens of social media towards this introspective and thought-filled time, I muse on the way in which social technologies have not only enabled us to connect and do good, but also find ways in which to show our gratitude for the things and people in our lives.

The good news is that great advances brought by the social web have galvanized millions to act for social causes and be thankful. From raising money for cancer to digging wells and providing clean water in developing nations, from pushing for an end to malaria to putting smiles on children’s faces and providing relief for victims of disasters – social networks and technologies expand our awareness and streamline the ability to engage.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that in spite of all this connectivity – and actually in many ways because of it – our society teeters precipitously close to dissociation and detachment. “Now Cathy,” I can hear you saying. “That doesn’t make sense. How could we possibly be dissociated and detached when we’re so connected?

The truth is that just because we are digitally connected doesn’t mean that the quality of those connections is any better. In fact, the maelstrom of connectivity makes it very hard to focus and so skating across the top of a connection rather than diving down deeply becomes almost de rigueur. With the sheer volume of people to whom we are connected on all these platforms, it’s impossible to have deeply qualitative relationships with them all. Now consider the younger generation and think about how this is evolving.

This recent article in The New York Times details the increasingly distracted nature of today’s teens. The inexorable march towards digital saturation has rendered the attention span of your average teen – which was never all that great anyway – into something resembling a gnat on a hot brick.

That’s a problem, especially because it’s the up-and-coming generation that will be seizing these platforms more fully and taking them forward. So what of a generation that is so busy skating across the surface and snacking lightly, never really connecting or staying present long enough with a subject to engage? Charitable fatigue, already an issue for social causes leveraging new technologies to reach out, could become even more of an issue when presented to a generation that is almost constitutionally incapable of focusing in the first place.

There is hope, however, and that lies in making sure we don’t forget the most powerful part of the social media equation – the individuals who are using the technology. Instead of looking at the social stream as nothing more than a whoosh of 140 characters, take a step back and think about the person whose keyboard tapping sent the message your way. Any community, any network, any social platform is nothing more than an aggregation of individuals whose voices together create the whole.

We cannot stop the racing river, but we can step back from the banks and take a breath before diving in.

About Cathy Brooks
For most of her career Cathy Brooks told other people’s stories for them. Today through her Story Navigation workshops she helps companies and individuals navigate the story-telling process for themselves, turning business-speak into powerful narrative. She also advises companies on influencer outreach, crafting narrative to build relationships. A prolific writer, Cathy writes for myriad blogs including: Dot429, BrianSolis.com, and her own blog, Other Than That. She also hosts a weekly Internet radio show, – Social Media Hour. You can also connect with Cathy via email or on Twitter.

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