Where is the ROI in making someone feel stupid?

mystery boxHey you, you with the iPhone and all the latest location-based apps. Yea you, guy who already thinks foursquare is obsolete.  Guy who fills his blog with reviews of gadgets and services that aren’t even available yet, ready for the next big thing.

Just stop it, will you?

This weekend, the who’s who of the social and interactive media world are descending on Austin for SXSW. It’s the place to be so, of course, I won’t be there.

As I’ve never been to SXSW I can only speculate on this sort of thing but, since it’s my name in the address bar up there, speculate I will. At some point, someone (probably many someones) will spend a lot of time (probably an arseload of time) debating the ‘next big thing‘ in social media.

FYI, I think the next big thing will be the proverbial bait-and-switch, which is why the link above goes to a brilliant Ed Lee blog post which helped inspire me to finally get around to writing this post. Not to some secret lab that identifies the next big thing.

We are not bridging the digital divide, we are widening it

Many of the people I share this big circle with heralded the arrival of social media as the great flattener of communications hierarchies. By democratizing the tools of content creation and publishing, we’re ridding ourselves of the filters of the past and connecting people directly. Ideas flow. Knowledge is shared. Puppies are rescued from burning buildings.

It’s majesty, I tells ya.

The thing is, it’s also bullshit.

We’re not flattening or democratizing anything. We’re simply shifting the balance of power from one set of elites to another. Sure, we’ve killed the press barons. But we’ve replaced them with the cutting-edgers. The people who (seemingly) have nothing better to do than test drive every new tool and dismiss as obsolete anything that doesn’t fit their narrow view of what matters.

People can not keep up

Hell, I get paid to know about what’s coming up in social media and I can’t keep up. Why? Because I’m too busy trying to close the gap we’ve already created between the early adopting crowd and the rest of the world. I’m trying to explain to clients that social media are a bunch of tools and services that offer different ways to communicate. I’m trying to bust myths and reign in expectations.

I’m meeting with professionals. People who have careers. People who are, generally speaking, intelligent and passionate about their work.

And we make them feel dumb.

They feel dumb because we call them dumb. We heap praise upon organizations that “get it” and ridicule those that don’t. We’re like this pack of jackals, ready to start some social media shitstorm of #FAIL tags anytime someone dares to make the very same mistakes we’re so eagerly encouraging them to make.

And the divide grows.

Innovation is important. But where is the balance?

I get that people want to innovate. You’d be stupid to call innovation a bad thing. But shouldn’t innovation be based on … I don’t know … something? How on earth do we have time to properly evaluate one tool before it’s already been innovated into obsolescence?

At this point, it seems like a small group of people with too much time on their hands is picking winners and heaping scorn on anyone who picked different. Call it an echo chamber, call it a clique, call it whatever you want.

It’s making people feel dumb. And that’s not going to make widespread adoption of the tools we all love any easier.

Creative Commons License photo credit: jiva

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