Question 226 of 365: What speaks to us?

The journey of tweet
Image by GDS Infographics via Flickr

I have a web alert set up for “social media” in my local area. Anything, whether it is a job or blog post or simply a quiet mention on the local news sends me an e-mail calling my attention to it. Usually, it turns up things that I am already aware of like a school’s new twitter account or a new business working their way through their newest iteration of “viral marketing.” I don’t often feel as though the things that I am interested in are really interested in me. Much of the time, the social media that is happening around me is much more concerned with broadcasting information rather than engaging in a conversation. Yesterday, though, was different. I felt as though someone was reaching through the screen and tugging at my shirt, employing me to come and act on what was going on. This is what it said (formatting is mine):

You are a natural communicator and a master of the written and spoken word.

You know how to convey complex topics in ways that both novices and experts will understand.

The power of your words influences people and shapes their opinions.

You can write case studies, white papers, press releases and other marketing collateral in your sleep.

Importantly, though, you are not old-school.

You embrace social media and its viral power.

You had a blog before most people knew what they were; you were on Facebook and Twitter before they were cool.

You spend your waking hours blogging and tweeting.

You understand and use a variety of social media platforms and outlets, and a lot of people follow you to hear your insights.

While I might never boast about myself in such terms, upon reading those words I couldn’t look away. I was drawn to the potency of being so direct. It was as if someone was taking the journey that I am on in these 365 days and splaying out on a table. While these words could be used to describe others, their urgency is arresting. All at once I wanted to be the one that these words were describing, to feel validated and unencumbered by these talents that seemingly so few people see as talents.

Each one of these statements struck a different chord within me and I wanted to explore exactly why that was.

When I think back to when writing was hard, I had to set aside a specific time and space to find an elusive muse. Now, I pull out a cell phone, iPad or laptop and the words just come. I don’t lack for stories to tell, pedagogy to analyze, or technology to dissect. I pull construct ideas, turning them over in my mind until I can figure them out. I find images and links and all kinds of media that speak to my experience, and nothing is out of bounds. Most importantly, I question. I question what is possible and I question what is good. I lend value to the words and seek out the truth in identity. I think about all that has come before and I know that I am not alone in a quest for expression or commentary. I know that the network of creation around me is supporting my efforts, one word at a time.

When I speak, it isn’t to obfuscate the world that I am co-creating. I seek to educate and to let simmer the ideas I find engaging until there is only flavor and further inquiry left. I do not dumb down, either. But I understand how to frame conversations and I do so until the only thing within that outline has a rich context, no matter who the viewer is. I do not stick to a single form of expression or arena of influence because I do not see value in arbitrary barriers to learning. The tools for presentation are all at my fingertips and I mix and match at will. I find audio resonant with audience, video triggers value, and words awaken the mind. Nothing less is worth our time.

When people link to me or retweet my work, they lend credence to a version of history that shifts with everything I consume and learn. I focus attention on what matters to me, and it never ceases to amaze how many others feel the same. I know this because I am a part of a conversation and a community. We are engaged in the act of rebellion, always. It is rebellious to influence others. It is rebellious to write and persuade. It is rebellious to have an opinion and to support it with everything you author. It is my responsibility to rebel in such a way. I’m not sure I know anything else at this point.

And I research. It is never the world according to Ben Wilkoff, but rather hyperlinked vignettes that aim to reinvent the world. There is polish in a PDF, in a slide deck, in action research. Collaboration is drafting, and publishing is posting. The process is an act of courage for finding an authority all my own. And in moments I feel that authority. In moments, I feel like final drafts are for people who have stopped exposing and promoting what is ongoing. So, I iterate. I never stand on a case study or white paper for very long. They are stale from the first time they get’s saved to a hard drive. Links are substantial. They allow you to rewrite history and focus attention on the next day’s rather than yesterday’s news. Knowing what is still relevant is my work every day.

And sometimes I use a typewriter. Sometimes, I know the tools of connection so well that it makes sense to bring a solitary notion back into the equation. I do not engage in echo chambers. I write because that is what is new. New media isn’t merely about comments, aggregation and syndication. It is about having a new perspective and articulating it through those means. The new school is about assimilating who we are and were into who we will become, and anticipating what we will need when we get there. It is a blend of tactile and transformational. It is creation wherever people are. It is more about those people and their connection to others. We are the links. We are the words.

When I watch the traffic of a single tweet as it bounces around among friends, I see action within each bounce. One annotates and one embellishes. One retweets and one reminisces. There is no single path that a meme can take, but each shows the value in tracing influence and challenging convention. Social media’s goal is to subvert convention and hierarchy. It is to go use the spaces that already exist to proliferate and saturate those that are already savvy and those who have yet to get on board. Social media makes those who do not engage feel as though they are missing something. That is virality. When the old networks of email and phone calls get mixed up in the madness of sharing what is new and bold. When grandmothers are suggesting video to their grandchildren, we know that we have changed the order of things. And that is what we must do. We must continue to use leverage legacy systems and inject them with the networked values of the blogosphere. The power of social media is in being social with media, not the media itself. It is in creating the context for the things that we have always done. It isn’t optional, and no one will do it for us.

Everyone has a journey and here is mine:

  • I joined my first social network in 2003… along with 3 million other people.
  • I first blogged in the winter of 2004… at least 4 million other people beat me to it.
  • I sent my first tweet in 2007… by then 8 million others had sent theirs.

Being first doesn’t matter. Having a presence does.

I don’t sleep until I have posted my questions and ideas of the day. I don’t read or watch without thinking about sharing, commenting or annotating. This is the way my mind works. Anything that I can’t rate, clip, or link to has little value to me as a learning tool. Technological silos aren’t of interest to me because they have taken themselves out of the absolute value equation. They have already lost in the game of competition and reflection. My identity is wrapped up in what I can write and think about. If I lose the pulse of what is going on, I feel as though my own pulse is lost. While Virginia Woolf believed in a room of one’s own, I can only advocate for a blog. It is the one space that sanity and understanding of self can happen in public. That can be a person or a company, the blog is the public face that we wish we could have had with us all of our lives, crafting it and changing it to suit everything we have tried on or tried to make work. We are public institutions, and it is time we all start taking control of it.

I think that it all comes down to understanding.

I use social media because it is essential. I pick the voice and the vehicle, and I push it out to those who are most ready to hear what I have to say. The idea that others find value in what I do is powerful. The audience is what makes it authentic as is the greater purpose for creating change within what I see around me. And that is why these words spoke to me so much. I feel as though they were authentically crafted and offer up a reality that resonates with my own experience. The fact that it happened to be a part of a job posting is all the more engaging. It means that the change I seek is making its way into exactly the right places. It means, we are on the right track.

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