Off on a wild goose chase

My initial vantage point embodies the great paradox of growing up in the digital world: a simultaneous social media skeptic and social media agent.
Elle Luna wrote a beautiful essay titled the “Crossroads of Should and Must” in which she discusses how we are regularly confronted with the choice between doing what we think we should do (i.e. that which our social and professional circles want us to do, think, or say) and doing what we must do (that which is most in line with our values and passions). To me, utilizing social media is a should because, as highlighted in Professor Kane’s paper “Aligning the Organization for its Digital Future,” the data are clear: those who do not digitize will be left in the dust. Like any social media skeptic, my natural social inclination is to minimize my digital footprint and maximize my footprint in the physical world (i.e. in-person, face-to-face interactions). However, the social media train has departed and as a class, we have the unique opportunity to embark on this wild goose chase to decrypt the space where tech and business collide.

It can be difficult to predict at which stage in the life cycle of the social media and digital technology disruption process we currently preside, but here are three reasons I believe we are on the earlier end of the change and transformation that social media will activate.

1. Each social media outlet represents a piece of an unfinished puzzle that has a long way to go before assembling the full picture.

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Until more platforms and apps are consolidated in a way that understands users as holistic individuals amidst a highly complex web of relationships, we will continue to see various social media shortcomings.

As an example, below is a screenshot of the day my mom and I “became friends.”

It scrapes the surface:

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I tread with a sense of skepticism when it comes to social media and at times digitization because, as highlighted in Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody,” the Internet presents several challenges to society. Who could have guessed that the largest increase in human expressive ability in human history would occur in an entirely different dimension?

One challenge social media presents, which Dave Eggers addresses in his book The Circle, is a lack of accountability with rapidly expanding technology. As he positions it, “Individually you don’t know what you’re doing collectively.” Sure, group action became significantly easier, but flakiness and inconsistency did as well. The sharp contrast between how my parents made plans with friends in the 80s (where if you said you were going to be somewhere at 7:00pm, you showed up at 7:00pm so no one thought you were dead on the side of the road) and how smartphone users make plans today is striking.

During the time I spent working for a mobile advertising technology company in San Francisco, a leading tactic for promoting positive team dynamic required employees from the San Francisco office to fly halfway across the world to India. There, they were able to socialize in-person with the product and campaign management teams that they work closely with on a day-to-day basis via the interwebs. As my coworkers explained it, the two week business trip primarily involved playing foosball and ping pong in the Bangalore office to foster relationships and team unity. This face-to-face interaction remains the “bedrock of good business,” and despite evolving video-chat platforms, technology continues to fall short of effectively replacing it. That said, wider implementation of virtual reality could be the game-changer that takes international companies to the next level. In fact, we are seeing this play out in the blue-chip world as innovators such as Facebook, The New York Times, and Apple, among others, are realizing the possibilities of VR and how it could revolutionize the way we interact socially and digitally. Increased investment in the space has led to higher accessibility and lower pricing. As a result, the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford went from using a $40,000 headset in 2014 to one that was only $300 in 2016. Given the pace at which VR has been developing, there are hopes that it will soon be used for high-quality tele-commuting, so that coworkers won’t have to fly halfway across the world to play a game of ping-pong.

2. Engineering new features needs to be simultaneously accompanied by the modification of those that bring the social media ecosystem down.

While it is remarkable that we can request a car to pick us up or even track the terrain we traverse while running, biking, skiing, etc., all by carrying a hyper-computing brick in our pockets, admittedly there are times when I find myself thinking it would be better if the smartphone never came to fruition (gasp!). These are the times in which I am reminded of the lousy features of smartphones that contribute negatively to human interaction.

One feature that illustrates this beautifully is the notorious reply-all botton – a functionality that many wish never existed including perhaps @ProfKane when he is absorbed by bottomless Deloitte email chains. Interestingly enough, the inventor of such feature visited BC’s McMullen Museum while I was working the front desk one afternoon. As his partner explored the galleries, we spent an hour discussing everything from art to digital business, and by the end he confessed that he not only invented the reply-all button (the spark for innumerable Cringeworthy Email Disasters), but also that he sincerely regrets it given that it is not fully compatible with natural human behavior. I’ve named one example of many that plague the social network, so feel free to comment with examples of social media features and functionalities that backfire or may require fine-tuning.

3. Those at the forefront of innovation in the SM&DB arena are anything but complacent. 

From the Jennifers of Rent The Runway to Travis Kalanick of Uber, everyone has their own playbook and product strategy. However, the common denominator remains steady: “move fast and break things,” as the original Facebook developer motto so bluntly states.  The concept of digital agility has permeated startups in the Valley since before the dot-com bust of 2001. PayPal for example, had to be inventive, discarding processes and features that did not take, adjusting its approach continually in order to persist with speed and relevance.  The great tech visionaries of our time prove that the business technology realm requires aligning the team with the digital future, one that is neither complacent nor compliant.  Ultimately, the world of social media is an unfinished puzzle that our class will aim to interpret through the real-time Tweetstream, digital connectivity, and shared learning via in-class discussion — looking forward to a great semester! 

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4 comments

  1. Nice post. I’d be interested in knowing who the person was that you met (I bet “reply all” was more of a group effort, but still). I think the key to balance between online and off is learning how to act in a way that maximizes the positives and minimizes the negative effects. We’ll cover this in class.

    1. I had the same thought when I met him, so for the time being, I took him at his word, wrote his name down, and subsequently lost it and was unable to follow up. Whether or not he initiated the reply all, it is interesting to think that several features and technological inventions can spark regret. Makes me think of John Sylvan (the inventor of the Keurig cup) who said, ““I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

  2. Awesome post Faye! Really liked the way you organized it with plenty of images, links, and different sections. Regarding your second point, I often wonder how our technology and devices would be different if we could truly scrap all of our existing iterative work and start over, using what we know today about the relationship between technology and human behavior. I imagine some features and tech would be different, but I’m not sure about any specifics.

    1. Thanks for your comment Josh, perhaps the next great American novel could be a sci-fi story of what the world would look like if the great tech giants decided to scrap the entire system and start over.

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