Friday, September 18, 2009

Before media can be earned, we must earn each other's respect...

[Image created from a painting by Stephanie Ramer]

Just this week it dawned upon me that the social web is an amazing albeit tough place. Just looking at the blogosphere alone, the new and profound shift in conscious communications brings with it a rash of harsh criticism, personal attacks and digressions that often seek to well up emotional sores as opposed to cultural mores that can be collectively challenged in more positive ways.

When we think of earning media – what the social web mandates in our interpersonal exchanges – we must also consider that respect is a core value that has somehow gotten lost in the frenetic race to stay ‘ahead of the social curve’ (if that’s even possible).

Maybe we need to understand, or reacquaint ourselves with, what respect really is.

So what is ‘respect’?

According to Wikipedia, it is esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, a person, a personal quality, ability, or a manifestation of a personal quality or ability. In certain ways, respect manifests itself as a kind of ethic,  or principle, such as in the commonly taught concept of "[having] respect for others" or the ethic of reciprocity.

Esteem for, or a sense of the worth, or excellence, of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability, for example, "I have great respect for her judgment."

Deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: respect for a suspect's right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.

Three things immediately jump out at me: esteem for others, what ultimately amounts to self-worth, and the ethic of reciprocity.

It’s funny because in the social media world, we talk about things like reciprocity in terms of transparency and authenticity, but rarely, if at all, do we discuss self-worth and esteem for others. Sure, we express mutual admiration, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is an attribute that primarily exists out of self-interest. For example, and at the risk of being cynical, if I commend you on something over, say Twitter, I am really soliciting you to commend me on that acknowledgment.

There’s nothing wrong with mutual admiration, by the way, but I’m trying to make a larger point which is that we often lose sight of the substance and inherent value behind our communication streams by virtue of how we actually engage in these communication streams.

As for esteem and self-worth, well, those are things we need to work on within ourselves so that we can evolve along with everyone else. There is a certain amount of heavy lifting we need to do in the way of self-introspection so that we can present ourselves to each other on the social web in a way that is emotionally resonant and contextually relevant. Perhaps technology has enabled us to cut some corners here.

So back to respect.

For purposes that hopefully extend this position beyond semantics, let’s reframe what respect can mean, or better yet, be, to us within a social context. Let’s make it all about reciprocity, about sharing something of value pretty much every time we come to the table with a desire, a need or an inquiry, so that when we share media – and all that it represents to us – we not only understand its value, but we then know that its discourse does not lose sight of its purpose... Which is to build trust, a primary tenet among many other things.

If we can accept that people are media, then respect is the foundation of successful relationships not only with brands, but the things that brands represent in the larger context of the world around us. In turn, the media that we earn then allows us to make a real difference in our lives, and, gives us real purpose behind our purchases.

So, perhaps we can reframe respect as a function of true reciprocity.

Enough of my pontifications... What do you think?

Posted via email from goonth's posterous


Charlie Quirk said...

Interesting, thoughtful post G,

The web sure is a tough place, and I think by it's very nature, it attracts a good proportion of narcissists who love trumpeting their own greatness - seemingly for no apparent reason.

Your post reminds me of that great quote from Clay Shirky - "the Internet runs on love" - it sure does, and the power of reciprocity is one of the great warm and fuzzy feelings of being human.

That said, every time you tweet or re-tweet a contact's blog post, you are putting your own rep on the line by association with that person's material. So sure there is the element of paying it forward, but there is also the consideration of the type of association we are creating for ourselves.

The people that make no bones about who they associate with don't seem to want respect from their peers, as a result, they don't seem to generate any. What's worse, they often run the risk of damaging their own reputations.

The Internet is a classic example of "birds of a feather flocking together." Reciprocity is king, but the right kind of reciprocity is harder to earn, yet infinitely more valuable in the long run.

By the way, I can't wait to sing Rocky Top all night long when the Ducks beat USC on October 31.

Kind Regards,

Lane Kiffin

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Charlie - while I can't agree with your position on USC vs. Oregon, the Shirky quote aptly sums it up. Further, you make a great point about 'shared reputation' - no doubt a reality, and a necessity, in today's web world.