Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crowdsoothing (Who Am I, Who Are You, Why Are We?)

I've decided after many sleepless nights, apishly grooming myself in bed while the blue glare of the television screen loops random images across my imperious face, that I am a cross between William Safire and Andy Rooney

Professionally, I call myself a "Digital Brand Strategist", which really means that I reposition phenomenae with what I think are somewhat interesting labels and ascribe to them what I think are fairly quirky, sometimes serious and/or humorous aspects of human behavior. Oh, and then, where appropriate, I sprinkle in a neurotic dose of technological knowledge to make things a little more compelling. In a nutshell, all this mumbo jumbo often times produces results for my clients, at which point I let out an exasporated sigh, say to myself "How the fuck did I do that?", take a day or two off, and then decide to get back on the merry-go-round for another ride.

Why do I do this? Well, I suppose I do this for a few primary reasons:

- No one really knows shit anyway, so why not try to make sense of all this shit? The operative word here is "try".

- Human behavior never ceases to amaze, especially when there's technology behind it. Automate us monkeys. Turn us into robots with feelings. Make that brand talk back to me (or dirty to me). Simply fascinating stuff.

- One of these days (hopefully before a nuclear holocaust), we're all going to call each other's bluff and go back to wearing pelts anyway, wielding clubs over our shoulders. At this point, I'll be out of a job and all the crazy platforms I've helped build will be obsolete. And hopefully I'll still be with my wife-to-be... if she hasn't been dragged into a cave by some other dude.

So what does this all mean?

It means that it's time we formally made a return to the truth. It's happening anyway, albeit at a clip that tends to blindside us. All the hype around digital next, and behavioral that, and cloud thinking over there is a train wreck of assumption and often surprising pieces of the obvious. But what we don't know how to do is obviate the need for these obsessions

Welcome to "Crowdsoothing", a way of calling into question, and answering, the who am I, who are you, why are we of our media-consuming existence. Let's face it: we are a culture saddled by fear, so we need a little consoling, a little soothing in our consumption. The experience is sorta like the movie studio exec in Barton Fink - I'd like some milk with my whiskey, please.

Crowdsourcing, a phenomenon brilliantly identified and formalized by Jeff Howe (yes, we follow each other on Twitter, thank you very much...), talks about how virtual communities have formed out of shared interest. As remarkable and inspirational as this groundswell is, an interesting thing often arises when we actually witness or participate in the wisdom of crowds, a "yang" if you will: we pull back or shut down altogether

Gary King, a social scientist and statician at Harvard University (yes, we also follow each other on Twitter, thank you very much) talks about unifying statistical analysis, vetting out partisan symmetry and establishing conflict causality in his white papers as things that are ultimately products of human behavior that are largely predetermined and heightened by an inherent need for rational and practical explanation. A common theme throughout (excuse my layman's interpretation) is the idea that our decisions, particularly within groups, are predicated on individual identities that shift when we are observed or take part in observation.

So let's apply this to social media. In a recent data-point analysis conducted by HubSpot on the usage of Twitter, it was discovered that only 24% of people actually put a bio description on their page, down from 80% a year ago. It was also discovered that...

  • 79.79% failed to provide a homepage URL
  • 68.68% have not specified a location
  • 55.50% are not following anyone
  • 54.88% have never tweeted
  • 52.71% have no followers

  • This is simply alarming. All this shared interest and potential currency, yet there is a blatant lack of commitment to any sort of formal relationship with the crowd. Further, the ambiguity new microbloggers employ suggests that they want to be a part of the conversation, but fear they will somehow not be accepted

    Now let's come full circle. The reason why I shared with you a truthful and self-deprecating account of who I am at the top of the post was to illustrate a point: aside from exchanging information and experiences, it is imperative that we offer up pieces of ourselves. Technologies themselves don't cause us to become disconnected or disenfranchised, it is our perception of who we are and why we are in relation to those technologies that does.

    So let's ask the questions and soothe the mode of consumption so that we can create a background of relatedness:

    Who Am I? The discourse or continued action of my role as it pertains to you, my functions, my role, my importance and relevance to you.

    Who Are You? The discourse or continued action of your role as it pertains to me, to others, those functions, newly discovered roles and the importance of spreading commonality as well as trust in the form of currency.

    Why Are We? The discourse and continued action of our collective conscience; desired needs, wants and passions, observations sourced through shared wisdom, and personalized or internalized as to cyclically affect individual thought and/or action.

    If we now apply these queries to a profile, it might look something like this: 

    Name John Doe
    Location Somewhere in Particular
    Bio Professional Description, colorful character description, several descriptors evoking a sense of personality and interest to engage with others, along with a higher purpose proposition.

    And if we summarize what this person's posts might look like or do, they would:

    - Share interesting information endemic to a trade
    - Share interesting experiences endemic to local culture
    - Generate insights about the world at large
    - Offer guidance in the explanation or use of relevant technology
    - Show humility, not hubris, in these observations
    - Be aspirational in nature
    - Invite people, even those with very different backgrounds, into the conversation

    Crowdsoothing is mere theory, but can very easily be indoctrinated into the daily flow of our digital, or even real-world, interaction. We have something special - many things that are special - within our new channels of communication. Let's not fuck it up by allowing history to constantly repeat itself... or at least dictate how we think or feel.


    Anonymous said...

    I'm with ya, least the sleepless part. ;) This is a potent musing, thanks.


    Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

    I suppose the potent musings come when the subconscious - or unconsciousness - is most active ;)