Two very different experiences this week have had me musing on whether there’s a north-south divide in how social media is used.
Looking first at the #1pound40 event in London. It was an intriguing concept – for just £1.40, the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas with some of the leading lights of the social media UK whirl.
There were Tuttlers, journalists and broadcasters; there were geeks, students and marketing types; the venue was impressive (Reuters in the Daily Planet like environs of Canary Wharf) and the whole event had an air of expectation.
Something was going to happen. SOMETHING IMPORTANT.
So, a couple of days later, why do I still have this niggling feeling that, if something did happen, I must have missed it?
Perhaps this feeling was in part provoked by my experience the night before at Leeds Social Media Surgery.
The surgery was an opportunity for charities and not-for-profits to come and find out about social media and see if it could help them in their work. I spent the evening talking about blogging with a woman who wants to provide the opportunity for interaction via a blog for workers in the mental health sector, as well as hearing about an impassioned campaign to help Palestinians where I was able to offer some basic advice about libel. In this setting, the social media tools were just that – tools to be utilised as part of a wider aim.
Back to London and what was described as ‘a curated unconference’, the purpose of our gathering was to explore issues raised by social media – questions such as if Twitter was a force for good, whether journalism was being democratised by the tools of web 2.0 and my old favourite – who can be called, or call themselves, a journalist?
Unlike other ‘unconference’ events I’ve been to, there were no sessions or pitches and instead small groups at tables discussed the issues between themselves before sharing their individual pithy conclusions via Twitter.
(As an aside, oddly for an event which ended up being monopolised by talk about Twitter, the backchannel wasn’t always in evidence – in fact when it was projected behind the panel at the end of the event it proved to be such a novel intervention that it completely distracted both panelists and audience!)
As the sessions concluded I took stock – had I learned anything? No. Had I contributed to anyone else learning anything? No.
It felt like we were all saying the same thing, speaking the social media speak. The digerati in full flow – agreeing with one another.
Some of the topics touched upon digital inclusion and the potential for political engagement through social media, but while we were talking, tweeting and pontificating, who was actually listening? What do the views of a bunch of always-on wired meeja professionals in London have to do with delivering news and information services to people working in tough but essential spheres such as the mental health sector, or living in areas where broadband access is still an aspiration not a reality?
That’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable event – I caught up with some people I haven’t seen in a while, put some faces to Twitter avatars and met some completely new people I’m sure I’ll enjoy following. As a meet-up, it was most conducive.
But all in all, for me at least, it was an afternoon inside the echo chamber, the reverberations of which will probably not even reach Islington, let alone Leeds.
There’s some other coverage of these two events that I’ve seen, as follows;
* The Guardian’s Mercedes Bunz gamely attempted a live blog of #1pound40 here and here.
* Leeds Social Media Surgery organiser John Popham summed up the evening here.
* The echo chamber is one of the topics which Christian Payne (AKA @documentally) also discusses in this audioboo which considered the psychology of Twitter.
* The Business Two Zero blog discusses the £1.40 event and also provides plenty of links to other views from the day.