This past Saturday morning I was preparing some notes for a panel discussion at the Schulich School of Business Alumni Forum taking place in Toronto. Our panel moderator had put together three questions she wanted to cover, and I was reviewing some of the stuff I have saved to my del.ico.us account to put together some hard data. I suddenly realized that I have talked a lot but never posted about some of these very interesting ideas.

Question #1: “Why has social media so quickly taken up an important spot in the social fabric, particularly for younger generations?”

A number of researchers are coming to feel that social media (and electronic media in general) echo deep-seated, historic patterns of human speech and interaction, particularly those within oral cultures. Lance Strate from Fordham University notes that “Orality is the base of all human experience.” In other words, we may no longer live in an oral society, but we are hard-wired for this kind of interaction. In fact, some argue that it’s part of what it is to be human.

Walter Ong, a student of Marshall McLuhan, coined the term “secondary orality” to describe how electronic communications often mimic the patterns of oral traditions. “Participatory, interactive, communal and focused on the present,” these characteristics can be applied to both the web and early oral societies.

But what about the why? The status/motivation aspect? Here we can learn a lot from tribal cultures. In tribal society, your identity is wrapped up in how people know you (and who you know). There’s a researcher from Kansas State University who’s spent a lot of time studying tribal cultures, and is now applying those patterns to online social networks. He’s noticed one key similarity: people projecting their identities by demonstrating their relationships with one another.

To sum it all up, social media resonates with us because essentially, we’re hardwired to be chatty, and chatty in a certain way. The motivation for continued participation (the element of self interest) has to do with one of the earliest and most universal ways of determining cultural status; the strength and number of your relationships.

Read the New York Times article.

Later this week,
2. “How can social media be used as a marketing tool? Can it be used as cost-effectively as purported?”
3. “Can Social Media be harnessed to make money, and if not directly, how does it affect the bottom line?”

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1 Comment

  1. Wow. That’s a much deeper answer than I would have thought, but it certainly makes sense. I like to use social media because it gives me the opportunity to have the humourous or chatty banter that is normally reserved for co-workers, family members and others in close proximity to any situation with as many people as we want at any time.

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