We’ve all heard it been said that social media are the innovation most likely to change the way we live and interact with people – but what does this really mean? I was lucky enough to participate in a social media conference in Egypt last week that strove to address this question.
Alexandria, Egypt. The cool sea breeze blows in through the open windows, ruffling the hair of the speakers and participants at EMAJ2012 – a conference bringing together the best minds in social media and digital communications from nearly 20 different countries around the world.
But what is this concept of ‘digital’, and what does it mean to the way we communicate with each other in day to day life? Mark Comerford, who advises in structural communication shifts (and who also has the best Irish accent of anyone I’ve ever heard), has his own bug-bears when it comes to defining digital:
‘To me digital is a word that has no meaning. The word is so over-used that it becomes more of a problem to use it than a solution – because for everybody it means so many different things. In many ways it’s a lazy way to talk about the world as it looks right now.’
Eye-opening stuff if you’re someone who spends most of their daily lives trapped in a digital bubble (as so many of us do). And yet Mark was also adamant in stressing that this distinction between ‘real’ and ‘online’ life is a false one.
‘My life is my life is my life. Whether I’m sending a tweet or talking to friends, or going for a run, it doesn’t matter. It’s all me.’
Mark Comerford, via Citizen Media Watch
Another inspiring idea that emerged from the conference was the concept that networks have replaced individuals when it comes to communicating with others – whether it be on or off-line. I have a network of people I’m connected to, whether through personal connections or social media platforms; and every other person I’m connected to also has their own network. So when I interact with someone I’m not just communicating with them, but potentially with their whole network.
That is a fundamental shift in the way we interact socially, and it’s hard to get your head around! But the basic principle is that we are no longer one individual, but the centre of a network of individuals, all connected to each other – right across the world.
Since the conference took place in Egypt, it only made sense that we should also talk about social media in the Arab world – which according to Racha Mourtada of the Arab Social Media Report has seen rapid growth in the past few years. Not only have people in Arab countries been flocking to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, they have also created their own networks and platforms to help bring people together.
One such network is Wupy (‘What’s up youth’), an online portal set up by a group of young men in Alexandria seeking to provide a place for their contemporaries to get news, information and opportunities relevant to them.
There are myriad more examples I could give of the amazing people, ideas and projects highlighted at the conference, but that would take all day! Suffice to say that it was a fascinating and inspiring insight into the changing face of our social world, and that I look forward to what the future may bring!
What do you think is the future of social media? Do you agree with the idea that ‘digital’ has no meaning? Join the debate @Nokia_Connects and be so kind to use the hashtag #EMAJ2012 so I’ll be able to find your comments!