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modifying the ’social’

During my participation in the European Futurists Conference last autumn, Sirkka Heinonen & Minna Halonen of the Technical Research Centre of Finland interviewed me for their extended research on Social Media.

They’ve just sent me the text of the interview which will be incorporated into their formal report to be released globally in November. Here’s an excerpt:

How do you define the MeWe generation?

It is the first generation where a critical mass has been reached in the proportion of people present, information acquired/created and activities coordinated online.

The MeWe generation is a temporally defined group of people with a common experience regarding the participative possibilities of the dominant communication technologies of the age. Using the term “MeWe generation” implies a new mode of generational definition that relates to a common condition of technological adoption and use. This should be contrasted to other socio-historical definitions of a “generation” that denote predominant cultural experiences within a given time.

The recent technological conditions of the internet and the access to it that provide the medium for interactions of the MeWe generation mark the incipience of a pop-internet. The internet is less considered to be a separate part of social life – something external that can be spoken of – and more of an unspoken and taken-for-granted public good, a sort of infrastructural entitlement used automatically as part of what is considered to be a ‘normal life’.

The MeWe generation is born directly into technologically advanced societies, discovering and identifying the web as a system of social and cognitive extension and as an evolving apparatus for new forms of communication and adaptation.

The modes of cultural production in the MeWe generation offer a flexibility within the participative corridors of the web’s structures and formats that effectively unite and integrate communication, expression and output. If social media encourages open interpretation and continued recontextualization of information based on social interaction, leading to varying scales and durations of social cohesion, it gives the MeWe generation the ability and responsibility of governing and orchestrating its own social development. This generation, with common access to shared mediated landscapes and the tools to commonly churn information through that media, have accelerated the socio-informational productivity of networks and produced sensations of continued connectenedness possibly in place of more meaningful behaviours.

Do you think or see that young people could have more to say in societal decision-making through social media or is there some kind of scare that they want to connect with their peers only?

Young people rapidly progress through stages and exercises in identity formation, mostly related to their social existence. Social media gives young people a new tool to play with self-presentation and relationships. The question is whether social media, with its boundaryless structure, crystallized mnemonics and non-physiological acceleration of the appearance of intimacy is too invasive, virtual and imprisoning for healthy self-development. Not to mention the preservation of those things in our society which we hold to be dear.

Social decision-making encompasses the entirety of the material and immaterial world and calls upon people to act and behave responsibly with an idea for the future of their own society. While young people utilize social media amongst themselves they may not appear to be preparing for social decision-making. But what is evolving is a new means for social communication and coordination that complements and potentially surpasses what is available today.

We all hope that young people develop themselves with positive social traits while using social media to learn new modes of bottom-up social decision-making.

Expressing our identity and digital identity or identities is very important. But do you see any threat in there from the personality point of view? If you are used to having multiple and shifting digital identities, can it shake your personality?

Yes, absolutely. Identity is derived from social relationships, which social media seems to enhance. But many are now questioning the supposed benefits of social media in bringing genuine improvements to the development of a healthy and well-adapted personality.

The constant use of the modifier ‘social’ needs to be questioned by way of evaluating the types of sociality that are produced. Social technologies and those who promote them prey on this notion that pure connectedness is our natural state. Whereas these socialities are guarantors for the liquidity and velocity of what passes through people. It is true that an aspect of our identities is what we care about, and that social technologies allow us to come to know each other and be inspired by each other by those cares. Yet just because we can share does not mean that we can relate. Sharing information is very different than sharing wisdom.

Relationships are highly varied in mode and purpose and this is coming into greater light as social media can both proliferation casual connections maintained with shallow transparency for the sake of cordiality and connectivity, and meaningful, compassionate relationships based on the promotion of what is good.

Social networks have always existed; they are only now visible. They can function at varying depths and for varying purposes. We need a better understanding of personality formation through digital mediation. We need to understand the nature and mechanisms of the relationships that promote complete social welfare, and recognize that social media plays only one role in our efforts to improve ourselves.

Many young people do not use e-mail any more. How about you, do you still use it?

I love to use e-mail because it contains a social protocol that allows for a degree of rumination and delay. It is an accepted medium for longer-form expression and explication, which leaves room for thought development.

With the migration to other forms of communication, those of us who use email are fortunate that it is coming to represent something more solid and intentional, akin to hand-writing a letter and delivering by post.

Can you foresee, maybe there is another mode emerging from social media, e-mailing, messaging, chatting?

The most interesting breakthroughs will come from the proliferation of access points to the reception and delivery of our social-media in geo-physical space. I will be closely watching the worlds of pervasive/ubiquitous computing.

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