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The long tail of social media adoption: my in-laws!

June 20, 2011

I caught up with my in-laws on the weekend while in Canberra and had some refreshing endorsement of the numbers and figures I see flying through my tweet-stream everyday.

There’s two fronts.

Firstly – my mother in law. A baby boomer, Pat is someone who until only recently used to ask the same questions about social media – particularly Facebook – that most baby boomers did:

–       Why would you want to post photos of yourself online?

–       Isn’t it unsafe to have information about yourself out there?

–       Friends aren’t something you have on the internet, you have to call them and visit them in order to keep in touch.

We’ve all heard the one-liners and there are many more. Like many baby boomers however, Pat has succumbed to what I dub the ‘pull’ effect of social technology. Once a critical mass of utility, people and content has been achieved, many baby boomers are now realizing that there is strength in numbers in social media (ie the greater the number of users, the greater the pressure for social networks to provide security, privacy etc), and that it truly has become a way of life. My mother in law is now one of the more active users of social media I know, enabling her to connect with her many contacts and friends in Bhutan, where she has forged many strong personal and professional relationships.

In the same vein, her son Ben (my brother in law), who has a reputation for cynicism about a great many things, staunchly refuses to use social media of any kind. He hates it. He’s about 26 years old or so, runs his own business very successfully, travels, and is a full and active participant in the world around him. But Ben – like many people of all ages – still feels uncomfortable with using technology to interact with friends, family and his professional network. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course – it’s a fair and firm choice.

Yet despite this, Ben recently started a travel blog, to chronicle his time in Peru. But for someone who doesn’t connect with anyone else online – who will read it? What is different about sharing his travel experiences with the world as compared to keeping up to speed with his friends’ life and times?

And unsurprisingly – it’s not bad either. He writes his blog in the way that he speaks and thinks – and we’ve all enjoyed reading it. Even my mother and fathers in law who until recently just didn’t believe in that sort of thing.

You see, I believe there’s an inherent desire in all of us to share certain parts of our lives with others. I’m one of those people that shares a lot – I try to help nurture and grow the people I connect with, and you can simply choose not to listen if you don’t want to , and some people with debate with me too, which is fine. For Pat, this demonstrated to me the human need finally being recognized amongst the older generation that social technology is really just bringing us close to the world, so we know what’s going on. For Ben, it was a recognition (although I’m sure he would not admit to it) that he actually did want to share something big and important in his life with those that mattered (it is a 160km trek across Peru by the way).

We each choose the extent to which we want to share with others via social technology, which is no different to the everyday lives we lead using our 5 senses. Finally, the technology is getting to stage where it can start to mimic our basic communication needs, rather than acting as a simple broadcast mechanism.

For the record though – let’s not get too carried away: those that argue about the need to build our people and communication skills are absolutely right. I still meet many people everyday who are so absorbed in the technology they can’t hold a decent conversation. Keep up!



From → Business, Technology

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