The Platform of Hyper-reality
The world of social media is very far removed from our premodern ancestors' experience. Our experience is not one of a constant awareness of the physical danger of the natural world or of life on a farm. We live in a world mediated through sophisticated technology that, for many people, has removed them from any direct exposure to the world of nature.
We live in an immersive world of an always-on information feed directed at our sub-rational desires. And the worst of these onslaughts focus on our fears, not our ambitions.
As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”
Philosophers and social theorists call this hyper-reality. Italian author Umberto Eco writes that "the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake." French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation, writes,
"Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referrential being, or a substance. It is the generation of models of the a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal."
Albert Borgmann, in his insightful book, Holding Onto Reality, describes the transition to this hyperreal world through a description of how the place of information in human experience has changed. There are three different ways that information connects us to reality. There is ...
Information about reality - Our direct experience of the natural world.
Information for reality - Our experience of information as an interpreter or chronicler of reality.
Information as reality - Our experience where the medium is the message.
Here's one example of these three types of information.
The first type of information, about reality is seen in the singers and musicians actually playing the music. They are engaged in actually playing the music, not simply listening or observing it being played.Think of the experience of the choir and musicians, as the symphony reaches its peak of intensity during the last three minutes. This is a direct experience of the music as it was created to be experienced by the composer.
The second type of information is seen in the sheet music that the musicians are reading to follow the score. The lyrics of the score printed in the audience's program and projected on the overhead screen. This information enables the musicians to play together, and the audience to have a higher level of understanding of the meaning of thought behind the writing of the symphony.
The third type of information is our experience of watching and listening to this concert at another time, in another place, in a totally different and private context. This third engagement is the platform of the hyper-real. The experience transcends the experience that Gustav Mahler envisioned when he wrote the work. Imagine listening to a recording on your IPod while standing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or in the middle of Cathedral du Notre Dame in Paris. The recording creates a transcendent experience, providing another layer of experience that provides a way of personally interpreting the meaning of the physical place where you are standing.
It is a wholly different reality. This YouTube portion is only 9 minutes of a symphony that is almost an hour and a half long. This fragment of the symphony, while dynamic and moving, is not the whole experience the symphony was designed to provide. Mash this video with other video content, and the information of the original becomes farther and farther removed from the original.
This virtual reality transcends the original. It is now no longer a representation of an event that took place in a specific place, at particular time, with people who were the participants at that moment. It is now a video that serves a different purpose. It has become its own reality.
The Hyperreality of Social Media
Social media is a platform for hyper-experiences of this nature. It is a medium where we can create relationships and experiences that are reflective of experiences that would not have been possible a generation ago.
The question that this raises for me is whether the purpose of the platform and the purpose of their organizations are the same.
Does Facebook's need to monetize the platform (organizational purpose) become the driving force that over time changes the purpose of the platform?
Is it a social platform or a sales platform? Can both co-exist?
Here are other questions.
How would the platform of Facebook develop if the question of monetization never needed to be asked?
What if Facebook was only about the personal and social development of people in relationships in a global society?
What if the now shareholders at Facebook never asked about share price and dividends?
I ask these questions to highlight the importance of understanding the effect that social media platforms have. As a platform for human interaction, they different than anything in the past. The speed, immediacy and hyper-reality of these platforms changes us. It elevates old virtues like patience and listening.
The Difference between the Platforms
There are host of online tools that serve the interests of business people world-wide. For example, there are meeting platforms, conference call platforms, shared writing platforms, and all that can be done visually on a global scale.
In my work, I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, along with many of the Google doc features. I use Skype as my office phone. I use Pay Pal, SurveyMonkey, Slideshare and Scribd. I blog on Typepad and Wordpress platforms. And I have a Ning site. Each one is different. None are complete in themselves. All require skills that must be developed in order to take advantage of their benefits. All take time to master.
I am immersed like so many in the multitude of platforms that exist in the social media universe. And I, like I suspect many others, are dissatisfied with what they offer. For this reason, many of these platforms will not last. I say this because I am convinced that they are designed based on a certain perception, even philosophy, of human nature.
I like Facebook because it keeps me in touch with lots of people. I like it better than Twitter.
Google seems to me to be the only one of these platforms that really understands what I want, but its approach is less than appealing.
Ultimately, the difference between the platforms is not their companies' problem, but mine. I have know what I want to do with them, and use them for that purpose. But like much in hyper-reality, the old reference points fade, and new ones emerge.
For example, where most people use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues, and others use it as platform for promoting their business, I use it more like a blog, as a place to engage people with ideas. And I find Facebook better for this than Twitter, Linked-In or Google+.
So, the difference then, is not just between the platforms, but between the people who use them. This means that the platforms of social media are a dynamic environment for human interaction, where peoples' lives can be transformed.
The Frontier of Social Media
Where does the hyper-reality of social media take us?
Is it a suitable and sustainable platform for our human desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters?
Is its virtual, almost disembodied state bode well for the ability of organizations to create collaborative structures that are prepared to replace the failing organizations of the industrial era?
These are the kind of questions I'll be asking as we continue to move through this series.