The medium is the message, (stupid).

9 09 2008

Ah, yes, who remembers Marshall McLuhan and his famous statement in Understanding Media (1964)?

In claiming that “the medium is the message” McLuhan expresses the sentiment that there is a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived, creating subtle change over time…. a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself.” (

We have been blessed to have multiple inspiring and challenging conversations with people over the last few weeks/months. As you may have guessed from reading some of our blog posts, we are a little fed up with how the web has been and continues to be used. We are also find the lack of vision and willingness to interact openly on the part of those who communicate for organizations, more than perplexing. But perhaps what Extanz finds most concerning is how underestimated, and you could say, diminished the power of social media tends to  become as it is relegated to interpretations of ‘all about me blogging’, ‘a group of drunken college students and their photos’ and ‘meaningless noise in 140 characters’. You know who I am talking about here….:)

Let’s face it, we remember the days of Napster, Kazaa and all the aggravation of the record companies. We remember how P2P was considered radical, dangerous and controversial. We remember the origins of the Internet, when it was known as the Arpanet and designed for information sharing, collaboration, and institutional and community coordination. These ways of organizing and communicating are built into the very fabric of the web, its DNA if you will. That’s why web 2.0 has come on so fast, because those technologies are moving the web away from its reliance on experts, on one way transmission of information and to some degree, away from producer control. What Napster and its comrades initiated was the rise of the prosumer = part producer, part consumer. It highlighted the connections between the relationships we build and the technologies that can serve, support and sustain them. It forced us into conversation with each other and it also raised the critical questions of authority and control. Information wants to be free, or so the battle cry suggested.

But here’s the issue. Where does information live? It lives within you, me and we. And herein lies the rub. Recently some bloggers have been talking about risk and trust and how they collide in the implementation of social media. Social media is seen as risky, Amber Naslund contends because of its ability to influence the multitudes = people may critique what you do, say something bad about you, you lose control over the message etc etc. Naslund does an equally good job of providing defenses to these contentions which she says, are largely based on the open, organic, ubiquitous nature of this particular medium. On the other side, as we have stated before, social media depends on trust and the cultivation of same. As Rex Lee puts it “A lack of trust will cause people to withhold information, to waste effort validating each message instead of integrating, to be less receptive to compromise, and to just be overall less committed, often choosing the least amount of commitment possible. Ultimately this means organizations are, less agile, less innovative, of average performance, and peppered with incomplete analysis.”

The fact that social media is open, is organic and is ubiquitous can provide some level of trust as there is a certain level of transparency in a relationship based medium.The power of social media, that collection of technologies born out of and through web 2.0, lies in their persistent commitment to participation, connection and interaction. All technologies, web 1.0., 2.0, 3.0 etc carry the values of their creators. That we see these technologies and forms of media ascend now says much about the people producing-consuming them. So can we reframe the title to ask – what is the message we are sending about who we are when we choose social media as our medium of communicating….OR perhaps more importantly, what message are we sending when we DO NOT?


Social Media and Extanz – Together we rise

3 09 2008

The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts

As someone intrigued by the ways in which individuals, communities, organizations and societies coordinate and communicate themselves, raising Extanz and the adoption of social media has provided much food for thought and opportunities for reflection. As someone deeply committed to the practice of good work and also intimately involved with the creation and continued growth of Extanz, I have participated in many an interesting conversation about these issues. As I tell my students in my Good Work class, it really starts with an idea of spirit, or the vision, values and rationality of any group or organization. These collective values are always derived from the people having those conversations and so our ongoing evolution of Extanz reflects the values of its principals. Here is a list of some of the things to which we are committed, as individuals as well as Extanz….

1. good work – that is, work that is excellent and ethical – to engage in work that is meaningful for us, our partners and our communities
2. inclusivity/community – this value comes from our cultured backgrounds – to engage in work that brings people together, in support of a larger purpose and collective
3. sustainability – at both an individual and collective level – to engage in work that encourages the continued sustenance of us as individuals, partners and communities
4. extra-ordinary – this value comes from our cultured experiences – to engage in work that is beyond the norm, edgy, visionary, creative, that stands out (the meaning of Extanz)

Wow, kinda lofty, right? Yes and no. I recently read a blog about parallels between the push for social media and sustainability by Max Gladwell. According to Gladwell, these two movements have some interesting things in common — both are motivated by a new politics, both are driven by a democratization of information and energy, both are determined to lose the adjectives (so that we no longer think of social media but all media as social, nor green energy because all energy will be green), both pose integration challenges for corporate culture, both localize culture as we grow our own ‘content’ and become activated as participants, both are grassroots movements but with top-down results, and the virtues of both are constrained by how we use them.

When I think about the folks who engage with Extanz and social media, I end up with a ‘composite prosumer’ (c.f. Revolutionary Wealth, The Digital Economy, The Cluetrain Manifesto etc). In our experiences, this producer-consumer is also a philosopher-pragmatist; activist-artist; local-global; individual-communal. As Gladwell points out, the often missed but ultimately important part of the phenomenon we call ‘social media’ is the social part. It’s about meaningful and interactive content, meaningful conversations, and meaningful as well as interactive community. As we have discussed in the blogs, it is not about ‘you’ and ‘your organization’. It’s about the us(er)’.  So if you’re looking to be part of some thrilling conversations, if you’ve ever wondered just what your ‘audience’ is thinking, it is time to get out there and have a ‘naked conversation’ a la Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re for-profit or non-profit (like we can distinguish this way, right?), social media can and will change the/your world. I’ve seen it happen here at Extanz and with our partners.