I spent the morning on my new iPad looking at lists -- end-of-year lists about any and all types of categories, from the best commercials, to the top memes to the top news stories.
But, as has happened many times in recent years, the thing that has most awed me about the year gone by is how we in the technology business -- and particularly in social media -- operate in a parallel universe when compared with the rest of the world. While everyone else moves around in a long-term funk, all day long I’m surrounded (virtually speaking) by people who live in a place where anything is possible, where there’s plenty of money to be had to develop money-making ideas, and where the future is something to embrace, not fear. Having a new iPad only adds to my personal sense of wonder.
If I didn’t occasionally read the columns written by 2011’s Most Depressing Person -- that would be, of course, The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman -- and other headlines about tumbling euros and high unemployment, I truly wouldn’t know that the world was in such horrific shape. Krugman recently wrote: “It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression.” (Fortunately, this call for a sequel to The Great Depression has gone unheeded.)
Yes, I/we live in a bubble, so it seems high time we start asking ourselves more pointedly about how to inhale some of the rarified air within the bubble and then exhale it out into the broader world. As Google chairman Eric Schmidt said in a recent article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, it’s not the bubble you think it is: “We live in a bubble, and I don’t mean a tech bubble or a valuation bubble. I mean a bubble as in our own little world,” he said. “ …. Occupy Wall Street isn’t really something that comes up in daily discussion, because their issues are not our daily reality.” (Full disclosure: my husband works at Bloomberg.)
The contrast was best stated, in the same story, by John Seely Brown, a former executive at the famed Xerox PARC. “They [those in the outside world] are looking at the world through a rearview mirror, trying to preserve the past as opposed to seizing the moment and moving forward with greater imagination.”
But, fortunately, the story doesn’t leave the topic there. It instead muses about how Silicon Valley’s “overwhelming bias toward optimism” can be used to better the world outside of it. You’ll note I’m speaking of Silicon Valley more as a state of mind than an actual place. Many a foreign-born company like Spotify contains the same DNA.
And it occurred to me that, if I were to wish for a New Year’s resolution for those in social media, I’d wish this: more sharing with the outside world. This isn’t what you think; it’s not about posting links on Twitter, or coming up with a cool new location-based app for the iPhone that makes transactions seamless. Instead, it has to do with using the enormous reservoir of resources, intelligence and, yes, optimism within the bubble to improve the broader world.
While it’s all well and good to develop tools that better use social data to target advertising, it’s even better to use social media in ways that better the world beyond giving people ads they want. Yes, social media did its part in 2011, becoming the grease of revolution throughout the globe (with the exception of North Korea).
But this New Year’s resolution I’m taking about is something slightly different: not only to put the tools created within the bubble into other people’s hands, but to use the same focus so many of you put into social media ideas and channel it into concepts that will better the world.
Maybe I’m overreaching again. That’s what night after night of fine food and grog will do to a columnist. On the other hand, while living in the bubble is great, it’s also increasingly troublesome to me that our world is in such high contrast to all that lies outside of it.
On that note, happy New Year! You can worry about this next week!
(The agenda for the next Social Media Insider Summit is coming together. Check it out here.)