It’s pretty easy to understand Web 2.0 intellectually, but to really get it, you’ve gotta be there. Here. All sorts of things get missed when decisions are based on assumptions that are intellectual constructs, not built out of practice and experience. We know this already: there is a strong difference between hospitals directed by clinicians even when their administrators are professional managers, and those hospitals directed by administrators or – even worse – by management consultants who are neither managers nor consultants.
Years ago I had a smug boyfriend who said to me
To know and not to act is not to know
It is apparently a Chinese proverb.
In the years since then I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve dealt with who understand the words used to discuss Web 2.0, but whose lives have not been affected by it. No harm in that – I understand the words used to describe meditation, but I don’t meditate. Each to our own, and all that.
The harm comes when these people make decisions about the use of Web 2.0. An example that is a few years old now, is the story of La Petite Anglaise, who was an Englishwoman working for the Pasis office of a boring and stuffy accountancy firm. Her employers fired her for bringing them into disrepute (hard, since her blog was anonymous), and that really DID bring them into disrepute. They understood it, but they didn’t get it because they didn’t use it.
But blogging is so 2005, darlink. The two more recent examples both come from the Twitterverse: the first is the story of Trafigura, and is summed up superbly by Colm, where the attempts to gag the Guardian turned out not to be a case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted, so much as opening the stable door and shooing a self-replicating herd of wild mustangs out of the stable-yard and then announcing you’ve done so in great flashing neon lights which spooks the mustangs even more. And the second is the 25,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission as a result of Jan Moir’s venomously homophobic article about Stephen Gately. (Hetronormativity – the acceptable face of homophobia). In both cases people who should certainly have heard of Twitter fell foul of something they don’t understand because they don’t use it.
The place where this matters is where people are taking decisions about technology that they don’t use. You can go to as many conferences you like and talk about people tweeting their comments from their mobiles, but unless you use it, you won’t get it. You’ve gotta be in it to win it.
In fairness, while there’s a lot I do get about Web 2.0, there is stuff that I don’t get. I took a deliberate decision not to get involved in Second Life and I’m ambivalent about whether or not I regret it. I also don’t yet get Twitter. I use it, but I don’t yet get it. Other than Colm’s excellent commentary about Twitter the other day, the most informative thing I’ve come across was in a Word Podcast. (I like the Word Podcast – it’s conversational dad-dancing, conducted with a complacent lack of self-awareness which always brightens my day).
At minute 38 (if you care to listen) they start talking about Twitter, and at minute 44 or thereabouts they discuss the way in which Twitter is now the first place to go for news. News: the new Olds . Or possibly Google: the new Print Media.
What’s the take-away from this piece? Just that in the words of Bob Dylan, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”. And because you can’t beat a bit of Bob, here’s a clip, and because it’s 2009 it’s from The Watchmen.