Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sharing to Communicate Is Here to Stay

The Pew Research Center's most recent internet study suggests that the popularity of blogging is shifting between generations: declining among Millenials and younger users, and increasing among Gen-Xers and older cohorts.

The rise of microblogging and the incorporation of status sharing features on various social networking sites may account for part of the decline of stand-along blogs for the younger group. But blogging has increased to 16% from Dec. 2008 (10%) among Gen X. And younger groups appear to be reading blogs more than other groups. This information has prompted some to question whether blogging has reached its end (see here and here). But Wired's Ryan Singel has a fantastic post that offers the opinion we may be burying blogging too soon. He argues:
the central vision of blogging — give citizens a nearly cost-free online printing press and let them make media — hasn’t died, even if many people find that it’s too much work for too few readers to write up their trip to Greece or opine at length on Sarah Palin or the indignities of Comcast customer service.
Singel proposes instead that we view this data as evidence of the ways in which communication is shifting, rather than the demise of a platform that is largely defined by methods of sharing.

The Pew report also reveals that overall, users are turning to the web more frequently for news and health information. While micro-blogging and status updates are great for instantaneous information, it's difficult to get the entire story in 140 characters. I think what we'll find is that there has to be a melding of media, and that these shorter bursts will provide the leads to longer blog posts and online articles. It may increase the need for a solid hook. We seem to be processing information and seeking it out at faster rates, so we're more selective about where we go for the big picture.

If the concern is that the younger web users aren't writing as much as older generations are then I have to say that we're perhaps getting ahead of ourselves. I don't suddenly see a society where have to wade through shortened text and slang to find meaning. We're still in the stages of understanding how media is changing and what options that makes available to us. With the immense amount of data at our fingertips, I can see how shortened forms of communication are necessary. We need to pay attention to the ways these changes shape our cognitive abilities, and the impact they have on critical thinking and nuanced understanding. Perhaps we'll see a future where the news is created instead of deployed—that is, generated by the people on-site rather than reporters. Why not crowdsource the news? It may be more accurate! All I'm proposing is that there are possibilities that haven't been realized yet. So let's not box younger Internet users into a particular stereotype that limits them before they've had a chance to figure out how they want to use, save, and share the information available to them.


  1. Funny thing about Microblogging: it's not a new thing, it's just that most of the people doing it now don't remember the earlier version: pagers. When I worked as a network engineer, we had a hard 40-character limit on the pages we sent out to other techs. It's pretty hard to explain a complex network issue in 40 characters, but we quickly found ways to accomplish it. Today's microbloggers face very similar challenges - and are developing very similar solutions!

    Overall, though, I think this post touches on a topic I consider very important: that our media of discourse are evolving. I've read the not-infrequent lamentation that younger people simply don't practice etiquette anymore, that they're just plain rude. But I don't think that's true. The problem is that they're being held to standards which are increasingly irrelevant to their lives. Test younger generations based on social media etiquette, and a different story emerges. There are rules for how to write an effective blog post, tweet, or Facebook status. And people today are constantly evolving those rules, learning how to best communicate in the media which they use.

  2. Oh! Good call on the pagers! I didn't use one for business, but when I did have one, my friends and I developed a number of shorthand ways to send messages (as I'm sure other people did as well.)

    I also (obviously) agree that etiquette, particularly with regard to media, is evolving, though I don't think we've come anywhere near reaching the final stages for a "netiquette protocol"—we're still trying to work out how to manage the large networks that have become the norm. Younger Internet users do seem to have a better grasp of digital social norms, cyberbullying aside. However, I will say that you can tell who the new adopters are on FB, Twitter, etc. Their digital "voice" and personality is much different from people who are long-time users.

  3. Argh. Had post, lost it.

    "Etiquette" maps rather nicely to "protocol". They're sets of rules which are used to effectively communicate with others. There are many different etiquettes, and a large part of social awareness is in knowing which protocol to apply; even if using a given etiquette deftly, it can still be very rude if it is the wrong one. Perhaps the best measures of one's etiquette is in comparison to one's peers, and in the effectiveness of the communication?

  4. Sorry about that. I've had that happen a time or two on Blogger; it's frustrating.

    Etiquette is also a means of maintaining the social order. I think we need to understand that it is continually in flux, and is redefined to suit the needs of the social order as needed. The period of transition is particularly interesting—at what point does one set of "rules" become old-fashioned and outmoded?

    I think this is similar to your discussion the organic nature about Manilan traffic patterns, and the ways in which they become an accepted and workable part of life even when they seem unmanageable to outsiders. While traffic is a physically experienced local event, however, digital sociality has the potential to cross many boundaries. Could we see a universal netiquette/etiquette emerge?

  5. Ah, well, life is. I should always remember to make a copy of my post *before* submitting.

    Anyway. I have strong doubts about there ever being a universal etiquette of any flavor. I think it was the Greeks who thought that a person couldn't actually know more than about 10,000 people, right? I think that probably holds true even though one can theoretically connect with anyone on the planet. My suspicion s that while we're not shackled by physical location, we're going to continue to be clannish and somewhat insular creatures: the corner bar might now be an online forum, but it'll still be a comforting "place" which has a distinct social flavor and etiquette.