More questions than answers

 

In reflecting on this semester’s Social Media and Digital Business course, I feel like I am walking away with more questions than answers. I mean that in a very positive sense. The course has left me with many questions about issues that I had not considered before and some answers that are fluid and likely to evolve over time. Some of you may have watched the David Foster Wallace speech where he suggests that the real value of education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, but everything to do with awareness. What I have taken from this class is not all of the answers about how social media and digital businesses will affect our identities and societies in the future, but instead it has instilled a curiosity and inquisitiveness in me to continue to think about these issues in the future.

 

Here are following are some of the questions that are on my mind at the moment:

 

Who is going to step up first to tackle online abuse and incivility?

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At the beginning of the semester, I noted in my initial thoughts, that I had some concerns about cyberbullying and other forms of online abuse. The discussion in-class about the “online disinhibition effect” (where someone shows a complete lack of restraint when communicating online in comparison to how they communicate in-person) was particularly thought-provoking. We began the semester by acknowledging that the Internet is not a decoration on contemporary society; it is a challenge to our society*. Throughout the course of the semester, whether it was Ashley Judd’s TED Talk on online abuse directed at women or Jon Ronson’s TED Talk that explored whether our use of Twitter for online shaming was creating a surveillance society; it is clear that as a society, we have a lot to learn about how to behave in this new era of human expressive capability.

 

Prof. Fichman challenged us to consider whether the responsibility for tackling online abuse and incivility lay with the Government, the user, or the platforms. Although the consensus was that platform owners probably had the greatest power to begin addressing this issue, we need to ask ourselves: what can we do? What can we do to promote digital media literacy or to encourage civility without infringing on liberty and freedom of speech? What can we do to encourage diversity and inclusion in technology companies? What can we do as individuals to discourage and report cyberbullying and illegal harassment?

 

How can we put mechanisms in place in organizations and societies to mitigate the risk of groupthink and encourage the wisdom of crowds?

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The class that focused on collective intelligence, the wisdom of crowds, and groupthink was the most insightful for me. If the American example of groupthink is Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Irish equivalent is the Celtic Tiger economy and subsequent financial crisis. In 2007, after ten years of unprecedented economic growth that transformed Ireland from one of Europe’s poorest economies into one of its richest, it was nearly impossible to find any diversity of opinion that would question the stability of the boom. The economic crash in 2008 was directly attributable to groupthink.

 

Over the course of the semester (and the 2016 Presidential Election), we have seen examples where social media has enabled the homogeneity of ideas and the formation of insulated groups. Nevertheless, social media and digital technology also have the power to promote diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and aggregation. If carefully constructed, these platforms can offer the promise of the wisdom of crowds.

 

From a business perspective, we need to consider what other entrepreneurial ideas can be found in harnessing the collective intelligence of loosely organized groups of people.

 

How will the work continue to change?

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Over the course of the semester we came across two interrelated concepts related cultural norms surrounding our notion of work. The first concept, “the cult of being busy” suggested that we complain about the volume of emails we send and receive, but secretly revel in the feeling of importance that accompanies this flow. The second concept, “the paradox of work” suggested that a lot of people that greater satisfaction from complaining about work than they might from endless amount of leisure time. In the short-term, we need to ask ourselves how can we leverage scheduling, task management, and file-sharing tools to ensure that our contribution at work is more than just a continuous flow of emails. In the long-term, we need to consider how we are going to embrace AI and the efficiency it offers. We need to consider how we are going to find a sense of purpose and meaning in a world where we work with AI. We need to recognize the physical world misconception and consider what industries beyond taxis and hotels are susceptible to further digital disruption.

 

Is the concept of a digital native too narrow?

 

We differentiated between procedural and strategic knowledge in relation to social media. Undergraduate students are far more likely to be familiar with the features of a wider array of social media platforms, while some MBA students may have spent enough time in an organization to understand the organizational cultural and strategic implications of social media. We used the terms “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” to distinguish between people born before or after the advent of digital technology. In 2017, we need to recognize that not all digital natives are created equal. Digitally mature companies recognize that employees what to keep their skills up-to-date to avoid falling behind in the job market. We need to consider whether other companies are doing enough to assess the digital training needs of their employees and to encourage their development.

 

Conclusion

 

If as Sherry Turkle suggests, that social media and digital technology is so psychologically powerful that they are not only changing what we do, they are changing what we are; the real value of this course has been the opportunity to question what this means for us as individuals and as a society.

6 comments

  1. Great post! I like how you linked all of the references which root back to your questions. I also agree that this course is going to leave me with plenty of more questions, a lot of which match up with yours. As for online abuse, yes platform users do have the most power to prevent any sort of cyber bullying/incivility, but I feel as if there might be a growing push for government intervention to some degree. While I’m not for a limitation on speech, but I think the recent trends of live video criminalization can be a gateway to some sort of intervention. It’ll be interesting to see if this all actually goes somewhere.

  2. Awesome post, Paul! I completely agree that the role of education is to make us aware of issues so that we can question the norm and develop more effective and efficient solutions to existing problems. I like how you pointed out the dangers of group think, too often social media allows us to fall into a pattern of confirmation bias and everyone becomes very one sided without actually understanding the counter arguments.

  3. I agree with you! I have so many questions that I did not even think of before. Before I honestly had never heard of Bitcoin, now I have at least 30 questions solely about Bitcoin. I think only time will tell how all these new digital trends and social media aspects will actually impact our work life and our life in general. It will be interesting to see what sticks and what doesnt.

  4. Nice post. Students often say they leave my class with more questions than they entered, to which I usually reply, “yes, but they are much better questions now.”

  5. You did a great job of putting into words questions that are on our minds as well. I do feel so much more aware about the implications of social media than before. Along the lines of who should tackle online abuse–how and when will people address the downfalls of increased social media use? For example, when will Twitter improve the efficiency of the Report feature, and when will people start taking it more seriously and holding their peers accountable?

    Great point about the concept of digital native. One of the main things I’ve learned in this class is the difference between having a personal social media account and knowing how to *really* use social media. So many college students put “social media” as a skill on their resume. While this is valid in terms of understanding how to use the platforms, there is so much more that goes into an effective and professional social media campaign.

  6. Great post! I think you bring up some great questions. I also think it shows what a good class this is if we are still wondering about these topics after the course is over. I will definitely be pursuing the answers to these question outside of the walls of BC and making sure to check the #IS6621 feed for updates!

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