What I Learned in Boating School is…

I. 12 Crazy Weeks

It’s been an enormously informative 12 weeks, to say the least. I came into this class with a picture of social media as a sort of monolithic instrument for procrastination and avoiding personal interaction. I had a proclivity towards the sort of the one-dimensional demonization of social media that we saw in Turkle’s Ted Talk. That changed fast. Shirky’s immensely-insightful first chapter of Cognitive Surplus served to subvert my totalizing picture of social media and show me how much human creativity has been released and enabled to flourish since the world became digitally connected.

Image result for clay shirky meme

The result of searching for “Clay Shirky memes”

After Shirky, we jumped into an array of strategies that produced the tech behemoths that we know and love today, speculated about the future of our favorite digital platforms, and earnestly discussed the dark sides of the tools that are bringing the world together. We were also fortunate enough to see a hell of a lot of development first hand, whether it was Trump proving Twitter’s viability, Facebook’s fake news challenges, exploding phones, self-driving cars, or Google definitively throwing its hat into the mobile and AI rings.

Reflecting on these events while simultaneously learning about the wider theoretical framework that surrounds social media entrenched my understanding of the concepts that we were learning and provided sort of real-time evidence for and against theories that we discussed in class. Additionally, the challenge of remaining embedded in social media through blogs and Twitter discussions provided a more hands-on avenue for me to reflect on developments as they unfolded and realize the pros and cons of each platform.

II. Key Takeaways and a Regret

Clearly, there was a lot of ground covered this semester, enabling us to jump down just about any digital rabbit hole we found compelling. I came in hung up on questions of social media’s abstract value in our everyday lives. After Shirky made the value proposition clear, however, I quickly found myself gravitating towards the corporate strategy side of things. It was fascinating to learn about the ideas that precipitated revolutionary firms, like Ali Baba and Facebook, and buttress those discussions with the challenge of actually getting businesses off the ground and monetizing. This side of things was made particularly salient as we watched some of tech’s biggest names strategically pivot in big ways, like Snap’s move to the hardware (and maybe public) market.

When it comes to not-so-revolutionary tech startups, I found the long tail of tech innovation to be just as fascinating as the names we know and love. People can make a living from geeking out on their favorite topics via online newsletters, and savvy app-designers reap meaningful rewards from the torrents of data that these niche communities provide. In other words, making the pamphlet, something that has been around since the invention of the printing press, more-efficient has wrought a huge amount of economic value. Other companies, like the startup that a peer’s presentation discussed, are using sophisticated AI technology to revamp something as mundane as our personal calendars and seem to be in a position to realize big rewards. People are even making lifestyle businesses by live streaming themselves eating. The world is an insanely interesting place, and people who are able to leverage common denominators both big and small seem to be in a position to do phenomenally well in digital business.

Image result for software is eating the world

With regard to the “regret” side of this section heading, I couldn’t help but wish I had signed up for a computer science minor throughout this class. Something about gaining an in-depth knowledge of the technologies which Marc Andreesen describes as “eating up the world” without a technical understanding of the science that drives this innovation just feels a bit disempowering to me. It’s sort of like driving a car and not knowing about its basic components. Sure, you don’t need to know the nuances of how and internal combustion engine works, but it is nice to know how to change a flat tire and take care of basic maintenance. That seems especially important on the software side of things, and an intro class on visual basic just doesn’t seem to cut it when we are learning about things like self-driving cars. At the same time, the fact that I would have had to forgo other formative parts of my education prevents me from being too concerned with this random regret.

A Final Lesson

As many of us have articulated in one way or another over the past few months, this class has served to show me that social media and other digital innovations provide us with enormously powerful tools with which we can do everything from change the world to send ephemeral funny faces. The world-changing work, however, will lay on the shoulders of people, and the relationships that we foster will be much more important than the mediums that facilitate them.

Thanks for a great semester!

10 comments

  1. dabettervetter · ·

    Great post! You really have reflected on the semester as a whole. As college ends soon for me, I have some similar regrets to you about what I have and have not pursued. I wish I knew much more about Digital business and the background of it like computer science as you mention. Especially with the software that we will all inevitably be using in any and every job we find ourselves in. This class has also opened my eyes to the “wider theoretical framework” of social media and digital business as you mention and not just the platforms we find ourselves on.

  2. emmaharney21 · ·

    This is a great post. First of all, I loved the title! I think that you are completely correct by saying that this was a crazy 12 weeks and I also appreciated you comment about how we went down countless digital rabbit holes. Some of my favorite parts of our class were when we would get really interested in a trending topic on twitter and discuss it in class, or brainstorm about life with computers in our blood stream. Part of learning about social media and digital business is about wrapping our heads around its potential. I think you do a great job summarizing a lot of the key points that we made throughout the semester.

    In terms of your regret, I tend to agree. I have taken a few SQL or R coding classes but I always feel that I am missing the bigger picture. Without the coding background, I do think we are limited in our understanding of some of these technologies and how they work. That being said, I felt as though we covered the material in a way that gave me an in-depth knowledge of the business applications of technology without needing to know the background in coding or computer science.

  3. Great read. I think you hit the nail on the head about having a certain type of “regret” of not learning computer science. It’s classes like this and TechTrek with Professor Gallaugher that have reminded me that technology is everywhere – and it’s here to stay. It’s for this exact reason that I’m taking a course in computer science next semester here at BC. One key takeaway that I have also learned in regards to these courses is that these can also be self-taught. Not to say it will be easy, but if the goal is to (as you said in your analogy with the car) to learn the basics, I have seen many friends use external resources and websites to make sure they can get these basics down. I definitely think it’s critical to learn these skills in this day and age, and I hope these courses become mandatory very soon. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great post! This final blog post was really well written and well thought out. I can tell you put a lot of thought into just exactly what you wanted to say. Like you, I have similar regrets of opportunities and tracks not followed earlier in my college time. Now that I am senior, I wish I could back and start over. But you know what they say…you can only live life forward and only understand it backwards. Anyway, I defiantly think all you said about social media and the value it has added to our knowledge to be very true! I also liked you analogy to the car and understanding other components in order to reinforce knowledge from this class. Overall, good read! Great job!

  5. I used to assign the “software eating the world” article for class. Maybe I’l resurrect for group readings. The nice thing about your particular regret, is that the number of online tools teaching you CS are abundant. You can absolutely learn it yourself.

  6. Great post (and title!). I had a similar view of social media coming into this class. I had expected it to be much more about the negatives rather than how powerful of a tool it can really be. You made a great point about how technology has allowed us to make a living by simply sharing the things we already love doing. I completely understand your “regret” of not learning the technical side of digital business. However, so much of it is still developing that it’s definitely not too late to learn!

  7. ikechukwu_28 · ·

    Great final post. I agree with Maria; I too wish I took a computer science class during my time here at Boston College. We use all of these social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, but we have no idea how they actually work. Learning the basics of how some of them do work I feel would be pretty interesting and useful.

  8. michaelahoff · ·

    Best blog title of the semester, by far. You closed out the post with a great reminder, as well. I also concur that the hands-on nature of this class gave me no choice but to be aware and informed regarding new developments in digital business.

  9. daniellep2153 · ·

    Like some others, I completely agree with your regret in not gaining experience in computer science. Especially after taking this course, I think I would have enjoyed to dive deeper into some of the technological conversations and readings we had this semester. Overall, great post!

  10. Great post! I actually also found myself gravitating towards the corporate side of things, and it was fascinating how disruptive social media and technology was in multiple strategies of companies. As Professor Kane always liked to say, “no one expected this phone to disrupt the taxi and hotel industry”. Some companies even completely base their strategies off of technology or efficiency of technology and it’ll be interesting to see how things turn out in the future, especially with the self-driver car industry.

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