I have just read an excellent article by John Naughton in the Observer writing about ‘everything you need to know about the internet’. This has inspired me to write my own, much simpler, version.
Here are 5 things (I like things that come in fives – more than that and I find I drift off!) that I think are worth knowing and which I often start with when evangelising (yes, I think that is an appropriate word!) about the internet and social media.
1. The internet is not evil
Like any new technology, there is a lot of negative press about the internet and various new websites on it. You only have to mention the word ‘facebook’ to elicit a flurry of negative comments such as ‘I know someone who was sacked for putting stuff about his boss on Facebook’.
Cast your mind back about 10-15 years. Did you have a mobile phone then? What did you think of people that had mobile phones? I can remember how it was seen to be pretty cool to say ‘I’ll never get a mobile phone, they’re for idiot yuppies’. Now even my grandmother has one and I don’t think there are many people left who don’t use one every day.
The internet and social media sites such as Facebook are simply another a communication tool, just like mobile phones. Saying the internet is evil is like saying all phones are evil – it’s a nonsense. The internet can be used for good purposes and bad, just as phones can be.
Don’t write off the internet as a tool just because of negative things you’ve heard about it. It is simply another tool that can be used very powerfully to communicate and one that you should be aware of, even if you don’t wish to use it.
2. The internet is now interactive
In the early days of the internet, you would use it like a big encyclopaedia to look stuff up. People would put a static website up where you could find out the phone number for your local chinese takeaway, for example. It was like having the Yellow Pages on your computer. Many people still see the internet in this way but it has morphed into something else under our noses in the last few years. This is what some people term the move from ‘web 1.0’ to ‘web 2.0’.
Imagine you are reading a newspaper online. You find you disagree with the article you’re reading. Previously you may well have written a letter to the editor (and you could still do this – by normal mail or email) but now there is a ‘comments’ section at the bottom of the article, where you can add your viewpoint straight away. You can also respond to other people’s comments on the same article. Your involvement with the newspaper is now two-way.
Or maybe you’ve just been on holiday and the hotel you stayed in was not up to the standard you’d expected. You write a review on a website like Trip Advisor, letting people know about your experience. Next time you go away, you check on Trip Advisor to ensure that the hotel you’re staying in will be recommended by other travellers like you.
You are adding to the internet, you are ‘creating content’ yourself for others to see.
We are all publishers now to one extent or another.
3. The internet is profoundly social
People often have an image of a pasty-faced geek spending hours on the internet with no real connection with real life. These people do exist, however, the internet that I use is much more of a network of contacts. It is real people that I interact with on the internet, not robots! Facebook has enabled me to keep in contact with friends and relatives abroad, re-connect with old friends from school and also organise my social life. Twitter has given me professional contacts from around the world who I can get in touch with at any time for advice and ideas. When I’m on the internet, I am generally communicating. In the early days of the internet, I would consume information, now I share information with a huge network of people.
I could never have believed if you had told me two years ago that in 2010 I would be connected on Twitter to over 1000 people, the majority of whom I have never met in the flesh!
4. The internet is democratic and radical
The internet is beginning to change our relationship with institutions and large companies. The power of the institution is beginning to be undermined by the internet. You only have to think of the 2009 Iranian elections, and the use of Twitter to put out the real story of what was happening on the ground to realise its power. Or take the Trafigura scandal – Twitter was used powerfully to challenge a multinational organisation trying to cover-up its appalling human rights record.
Personally, I am excited by the democratic potential of the internet. From trivial things such as the group who managed to get Rage Against the Machine to Christmas Number 1 last year through Facebook to my own complaint on Twitter about Cartridge World being responded to by Cartridge World USA.
We have more power back in our hands again to challenge injustice.
5. You can’t afford to ignore it
I would never deign to tell someone ‘the internet is good for you’. Just like choosing a mobile phone and how you use it, it is totally up to you to decide how you want to use the internet and what for. You may want to continue to use it like an online encyclopaedia and leave it there. That’s fine! However, you do at least need to be aware of the profound changes the internet is making to the way we live and work. Trying to ignore it is a little like sticking your finger in the dyke – before long you will be overwhelmed by the pressure. All I would recommend is that you keep an open mind about the internet and new tools you can use. Think carefully and as objectively as you can about whether you can use these things for work or your personal life. You never know, you might find something life changing!
If you want to do something about this but don’t know where to start, why not check out some of my teach yourself materials by clicking on the ‘what can I do for you?‘ tab on the menu above or book me for some training at your workplace?