Social Media Epistemology

Posted by on 20.10.2009 in a2bb, education, media

With so many people claiming to be social media experts we just as often hear “there are no social media experts.”

There certainly are a lot of people who can generate a whole bunch of verbiage, but social media presents such an all-encompassing, massive and dynamic shift that the “social media expert” label makes about as much sense as “business expert” or “science expert” — useful only to those who are completely ignorant.

Then to say that nobody really understands everything about social media is like saying nobody really understands everything about society in general.

Of course nobody understands the whole…

If you want to get all epistemological about it [... sorry, I'm going to anyways], I’ll say that because we are a part of everything ourselves – and so is anything we do and say about it — the mere act of describing everything changes it and makes the description obsolete before anyone even has time to retweet it.

Even if you could eternally pause the web to investigate and analyze every single aspect, as soon as your first insight appears in people’s feeds after un-pausing, their behaviour will be affected by that new knowledge and the web will change yet again (e.g. someone might start developing a new app) and you won’t know everything anymore.

This isn’t just the reality of social media, it’s the reality of experience & expertise in any domain — the web just makes it more apparent.

So we’ll live with it.

The people selling themselves as “social media experts” are essentially tour guides. Right now that’s exactly who we need. We need hustlers — maybe even a few charlatans [I'm not exactly sure where I fit] — willing to approach even the most reluctant of the newest arrivals, herding everyone onto the bus to experience the area’s landmarks:

There’s Facebook on you’re right and of course Twitter is on your left. Look close and you’ll see Ashton, Ellen, MC Hammer… Oooh and there’s Flickr — beautiful isn’t it? Then we’ll drive by MySpace (we won’t be stopping)… And if we have time I’ll take you to Tumblr or Blogger and you can try posting something. Don’t be afraid, not everybody likes it but it’s something you have to try at least once while you’re in town…

The analogy stops there becuase there is no going back after this tour… And we still have to go¬†a lot further.

This is the direction we’ll all be living and working from now on. Of course the landscape will surely change — along with the names that resound across it — but we won’t ever be going back.

Ultimately everyone will come this way and start to settle. Waves of immigrants will continue to integrate with the established locals (with varying degrees of tension), and we’ll each carve out our own little niches of expertise (likely extensions of what we’re already doing) and every one of those niches will be infused with some aspects social media.

We’re all responsible for figuring out how the infinite variety of social media practices work with whatever it is we do. Nobody else can put it all together for us in the end.

It’s funny that while nobody is a social media expert, in another way, we’re all becoming one.