Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Does social media discourage ideas?

August 15, 2011General

Neal Gabler argues in the Times that social media tends to focus our minds on facts and updates--and keeps us, as individuals and a society--from generating big ideas.

I have to confess, I was reading this article of his and wondering if Gabler had read my books, and then wondering how he might find out about them. If he followed certain people on Twitter, they might direct him to them, and perhaps he'd encounter an idea. But he puts down Twitter: "Instead of theories, hypotheses and grand arguments, we get instant 140-character tweets about eating a sandwich or watching a TV show."

The problem is that social media, like most of human conversation, is full of trivia. If you tune blindly into Twitter or "friend" absolutely everyone on Facebook, you'll spend lots of time on those networks and pick up only anthropology. It's like eaves-dropping in Times Square.

The challenge is to listen to the right people, and then to follow their links. Some of them lead to ideas. In fact, I would argue that anyone interested in ideas should at least be dipping your four or five toes into social media.

That said, as I wrote my novel over the spring and summer months, I stayed away from Twitter and Facebook for days at a time, and I didn't blog that much. I enjoyed the break. But I think that if you're in the information business, or the ideas racket, you can't afford to tune out millions of smart people. Finding them is due diligence for the Information Age.


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