26 July 2010

Thoughts on social media piety

Having attended rather a lot of multimedia/multiplatform sessions at various conferences and events over the past two or three years, I was somewhat sceptical as to what the UKCSJ's "Multiplatform Working" session could offer me. To be honest, my main reason for attending was that it was in the same room as the Creative Feature Writing session I'd just sat through, and I couldn't much be bothered to move for the alternative, which promised to be another variation on the theme of Death, Death and More Death (of traditional media).

I do appreciate that it's difficult to avoid repetition at these sorts of events, especially where social media are concerned. Perhaps, I thought as I was sitting there, it's because the folks who do all the scoffing at the mention of the word "Twitter" never actually make the effort to check it out and consider it for its merits. Consequently, they end up in the next multiplatform session scoffing at the mention of the word Twitter while some poor, weary soul tries to espouse its merits. And you can't attend one of these sessions without a mention of the transition from "push" to "pull" media (broadcast is "push", social media is "pull", read Anderson for the difference). It can get tiresome - thus @ayasawada and I exchanged some knowing looks...

That said, the whole hour-long session was worth it just for Christian Payne's five-minute slot, which was, itself, a perfect metaphor for social media - fast, fun and fascinating to everyone who knows anything about it, and (I guess) completely baffling to everyone else. This guy is literally unable to contain his enthusiasm for social media, and it's infectious. He told several anecdotes about stories he'd broken via live streaming or uploading and sharing online, which within minutes had been Tweeted and Facebooked around the world and caught the attention of major national and international media. It was thoroughly entertaining, even inspiring, to those of us who are regular social media users. What the scoffers thought of it, I can't imagine.

It got me thinking though. I've recently finished writing a chapter on social media in science communication for a Cambridge University Press book. This was a guide for scientists, so I had to be very careful not to assume too much knowledge (a weird role reversal considering my experiences as a science writer). Thus, I've been worrying that the chapter may seem too basic for some. It seems that in the science communication world - probably much as in the general population - there's a huge deficit between those who are permanently plugged into the networks and those who wouldn't know a Facebook status if it hit them in the... face.

And what does our science communication teaching tell us about knowledge deficits...? BAD! WRONG! They must never be mentioned! (See Alice Bell's reflections on the deficit model as a big old pile of poo for discussion of this). Okay, so perhaps compared to knowing about science, it's not so imperative for everyone to know about social media. BUT, it does suggest a different approach for those so keen to extol the benefits of Facebook, You Tube, AudioBoo et al. And considering this, I've started to feel a little guilty about my gleeful mocking of those who scoff at Twitter, and those knowing looks.

Much like science communicators, perhaps enthusiastic, intravenous drip-type social media users need to try "engaging" uninterested parties rather than rolling their eyes at them - generating excitement about what it can do (like Payne) but also listening to what those parties have to say about it, and taking it on board. (Perhaps every social media panel we assemble needs a technophobe...) Also, as with science, you could make an argument that social media is not for everyone. Is it a case of saying that if you explain the benefits well enough, people will be interested? Or do we have to understand that some people just aren't, and respect that?

Ooh, also, more than anything else so that I can find it again, here's the Twitter transcript for #ukcsj.

1 July 2010

The Lacks book

Just to say I finished the Lacks book mentioned in my last post ages ago. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Not just the story, but the STORY. I mean, the fact that this is a science book that actually has a story. A real one. I won't spoil anyone's enjoyment except to say that it's very, very good. And you should all read it.

Also, I'm very, very jealous that I haven't come across such a story thus far in my science writing career. Must try harder.