Usually we think it’s this way: We are the users and we’re using social media like blogs, Wikipedia, Friendfeed or Twitter. But what if we put it exactly the other way round? Sometimes reversing the perspective gives a clearer view. So, I propose that in addition to us using social media, social media is using us (remember what Michael Wesch said?).
This is not a very new thing to do, listen to what Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964:
By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms. That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An Indian is the servomechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the executive of his clock.
And, I would add: The geek of his FriendFeed.
To add a few examples: Wikipedia is using me to learn more about sociological, statistical and architectural subjects; Twitter and FriendFeed are using me to keep the streams of my followers flowing (it’s not only about tech), the blogosphere is using me to connect different weblogs on sociology and social media. I could go on much longer with this.
Social Media is using me. And this in turn changes my life and changes society. This point can also be found in McLuhan’s writings, as he said:
Physiologically [I would add: psychologically and socially, BK], man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology.
As much as the current state of social media and its various discourses are shaped by people like Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington and Jeff Jarvis, I believe they would not hesitate to confirm that social media has used and changed them as well.
Sometimes the social media system even demands too much: another blogpost, another Wikipedia entry, another Tweet. I bet there are more than enough people who are waking up with their Google Analytics and are going to bed with their Feedburner stats. Social media can overuse us. And there is no moral conscience preventing this.
Maybe it’s a good idea to step back sometimes and rethink: how much are you giving and how much are taking from social media.