Book Review: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Alone Together Sherry Turkle book

 

Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle is not the sort of book I tend to review on this blog. I usually talk about books that you might find useful to integrate in university classes aimed at teaching about professional uses social media and related subject.

Alone Together, on the other hand, is a cautionary tale.

This year Alone Together is the Common Reading book here at Shepherd University. And, as a member of the committee, I had the chance to read it.

The book is a detailed review of years of Turkle’s research from her time exploring the early days of artificial intelligence as a graduate student at MIT up through contemporary times where smart phones, video games, and virtual worlds have become a conduit for our interactions with others.

The book can be divided into two parts: The first half explores the growing intrusion of of A.I. into our lives and its effect. Turkle takes exception to the dominant narrative that robots – from Furby’s intended as play pals for children to robotic pets designed to serve as companions for the elderly – are inherently positive. This is the “expect more from technology” part of the argument. Turkle asks why is it that we are wanting robotic pets instead of genuine friendships, or even pets? Why is it that many are hoping one day to have robots that can care for the elderly or serve as love interests?  And what’s the cost for both the individuals these technologies aim to serve and society as a whole? The book traces the progression towards humanizing technology, increasing expectations, and shifting attitudes towards accepting technology as capable of ‘thinking’ on towards capable of ‘feeling.’

The second half of the book is about ‘why we expect less from each other.’ This, of course, is tied to why we expect more from technology. A large part of this portion of the book is the various ways in which we are hoping that technology can serve to take away the pains, discomforts, or awkwardness of dealing with others. Break ups over text-message, Second Life romances with persons we’ve never seen or met offline, and using IM or dating websites to flirt, are all examples of this. Another theme is how we construct our identities and craft an image of ourselves through Facebook (or blogs such as this 🙂 ). A major theme that touched home to me, is streamlining and efficiency. For example, because we are so busy, it is more convenient to text or email to get things done. There’s no time to sit and chat – both parties are busy. We’ve got to get straight to the point. I admit, this is a behavior I am very guilty of. Efficiency and maximizing productivity are things I highly value. I often find it much more effective to email about work-related things.

With the rise of social media, and tools like Skype, there is such promise for connectivity. We can extend our senses across the world, as McLuhan stated. Yet, are we taking time to be with others? Or, are we blasting away messages into space, like Tweets that no one will read because we feel we need to have a consistent presence? But, the more we post the more content there is, and the greater the competition for the attention of those we want to reach.

It is an unknown place we are all rushing towards (And, I admit, that I took a detour once or twice while writing this blog post to check Facebook and Twitter).

It is fair to say that our society has become optimistically obsessed with technology. And, I am not exception to that. After all, this is a blog about technology and how we can 1) use it as a tool to teach our students, and 2) how our students should learn and understand it to advance their careers and, I hope, seek fulfillment in their careers.

In terms of the purpose of this blog:

We are wise to remind ourselves that just because we call something social media doesn’t mean that we are using it functionally for social purposes.

Turkle is skeptical of technological optimism. And, for that reason, I thank her for the opportunity to put my own relationship in technology on review.

Have I been using social media socially? Or, have I been using it as a broadcast platform? Is it bringing me connections, enrichment, and the opportunity to help others, enrich others, and build lasting relationships? (A recent article, explored that social relationships are and always will be a major predictor of happiness and well-being. Turkle’s work is cited in the article).

We talk a lot about ‘engagement’ on social media as a key metric. But, what are we measuring when we measure engagement? Are they simply behaviors or lasting emotional connections and relationships?

If you’re interested in a journey exploring our complex relationship with technology, this book is a worthwhile read. I believe we can only gain by exploring and reflecting on our own relationships and biases about technology.

A Look at My Social Media Content Strategy Assignment

Several weeks ago I mentioned that a big change in my Comm 322 Social Media class this semester (syllabus), is that students will be working to create the social media for our department’s Twitter, Instagram, and a brand new blog.

getexcitedI want to share a little about the first assignment students do towards this project. My goal with this project is to provide students opportunities to apply what they are learning in class to planning and executing social media content plans for an organization.

One of my main emphases is getting them intermediate experience planning and thinking strategically about social media content strategy. They get advanced experience with these things in the campaigns class. So social media class is a great stepping stone.

So here’s what I did. I assigned a strategy plan assignment that students complete as the first step in the class. This gets them creating a plan for the type of content they want to produce, and how that content will align with our target audience, theme, and key messages, which I provide for them and emphasize repeatedly. The purpose is for them to learn to align their content plans with the overarching framework for our content – where we want to go.

For example: One of our key messages for the Comm Department’s social media is: “Department classes are exciting, dynamic, relevant and innovative”

(As a note: A senior completed an original plan for our department social media for a capstone project in a previous semester. I worked with that student to create some of this background planning, and some of it I created or modified)

They then produce goals and objectives (or adapt from the goals & objectives a student created in a project he completed), create a channel purpose statement, and create a team workflow for how they plan to get their work done. I provide a series of roles for this, which you can see in the assignment below.

To go along with their plan, they present to the class some sample content that aligns with their strategy plan and that they would like to see posted to our department social media. Other classmates complete an evaluation sheet of their peers, assessing in part whether the content is consistent with our class-wide goals, theme, audience, and messages. They also provide feedback on what content should be posted or not. And we only post the best content that aligns with our theme, messages, and hits our target audience.

So, for example, does the content your team is proposing creating align with our key messages such as the one I’ve shared above?

From there, I give students feedback on any adjustments to their plans or the type of content they want to create. And from there, they begin working on creating content that aligns with their plan – which they do 3 more times during the semester (creating the content, not redoing the plan). They present the content they created for a given time period class their content several weeks later.

So far I am really enjoying this project. I truly believe students are getting to think through what they are learning and apply it. This way, they can see it put to practice, learn about the roadblocks and challenges, and get the benefit of the successes. Students have done a great job collaborating across teams to ensure consistency across different social channels, which is something else I emphasize in the class – the importance of consistent messaging and content experiences across multiple screens, which Brito talks about in Your Brand: The Next Media Company (one of our course books – thanks to Karen Freberg for recommending this text!). I’ll talk a little bit more about how the teams are organized, and share the content they’ve created in an upcoming post!

Here is the assignment! Let me know if you have any questions, or thoughts on how i can modify or improve it!

What is The Future of Content Marketing in 2014?

As I discussed on this blog, 2013 was to be the year of content marketing. (Here are all my posts on content marketing)

Recently, Gary Shirr (@ProfessorGary) brought up an interesting point in a discussion post he made to the Teaching Social Media Marketing LinkedIn group I’m a part of. It got me thinking quite a bit.

In essence, he asked what the impact of Facebook shutting down the “Like economy” last December will have on organic social media marketing? (And what the proper mix of paid and organic should be)

Gary (whose blog I highly recommend) also alluded to the problem of a saturated content environment, (What Mark Schaefer calls ‘content shock‘).

While I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, I wanted to share the problem here on the blog and put out a few related articles that you may enjoy reading. I hope it helps you jump into the conversation (see the great thread of comments on Gary’s post – cited below)!

So what happened?

Facebook made a change to its newsfeed algorithm resulting in a large decline in visibility of branded Facebook posts in an individual’s news feed.

The impact? Anecdotally, my wife, who runs the Facebook page for an international non-profit, said the change has resulted in a recent decline in her organization’s Facebook page stats.

What’s the Effect?

Gary argues in his post that it is the result of an effort by Facebook to drive more paid advertising (read his post for explanation). As a result, he says, organic won’t be enough to sustain a brand on Facebook.

Mark Schaefer posted a comment in Gary’s blog post that adds further clarity to the issue. In it, Mark is quoting a Facebook exec writing about the change: “On a given day, when the average person visits their News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories we can show. As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Pages will likely see changes in distribution resulting in a decline in organic reach.”

In a follow-up post, Gary discusses his recommendations to how businesses should adjust given the change to the Facebook algorithm.

Other Challenges to Content Marketing in 2014

As noted above, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) recently posted about “Content Shock,” his term for the saturated marketplace of content marketing. In essence, he argues that as more people enter the content marketplace, competition for attention increases, and attention becomes increasingly fragmented. This makes sense! But this content is free. So how do you compete with the limitless supply of competition also creating free content? Mark argues that this flood favors those entities with big budgets, and that the cost of social media is rising. Read his post to get the details and more on the why.

Lastly, in a related vein I recently read an article on Shift titled “How Content Marketing Could Kill PR.” In essence, the piece argues that due to the flood of content being created, PR folks are being asked to pitch cruddy content. This may result in a loss of credibility, as those on the receiving end of the pitch are dealt sub par content. In their words, “What could kill public relations is not the content marketing itself, but increasing pressure from brands to pitch mediocre or bad content.”  It is a really interesting read and one I recommend.  So what to do? The simple solution may be “Create Great Content.” But will that really work? Will there be increasing need for PR professionals to help organizations break through this content shocked ocean of content and reach a targeted public?

What do you think? What is the future of content marketing? Is the “market saturated”? And if so, what will the effect be in 2014? How will organizations respond? Is the playing field no longer level for “the little guy?” Will the cost of social media become prohibitive?

Just some thoughts and questions for your Thursday! I hope you have a great one!

-Cheers! Matt

photo CC by Sean MacEntee

 

“Social Media and Mobiles” Social Media and Politics Research Published!

I hope everyone is staying warm! Here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, we’ve got some terribly cold weather heading our way tonight!

I want to take a moment to share some news from the research side of my life in academia. 🙂 As you know, I research social media and civic and political participation.

I’m very excited because this past Friday, my latest co-authored study was published online in the journal New Media and Society.

This study, “Social Media and Mobiles as Political Mobilization Forces for Young Adults: Examining the Moderating Role of Political Expression in Political Participation,” is an extension of our earlier articles: “More harm than good? Online media use and political disaffection among college students in the 2008 election” (2013) in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and 2010’s Mass Communication & Society piece, ““Did social media really matter? College students’ use of online media and political decision making in the 2008 election.”

Social Media and Mobiles really seeks to further investigate the seemingly important role of online political expression (such as posting political videos to YouTube, Tweeting about politics, or posting to Facebook, etc.) in political participation. Particularly, the study looks at what role online expression may play in moderating any effects of political media use on participation. Additionally, this study investigated political smart phone app use, something not investigated in the prior two studies.

Here is the abstract:

A web survey of college students was conducted to examine whether online political expression moderates the effects of political media use on political participation. Results showed that online political expression enhanced the effects of political mobile apps, traditional offline and online media, and social media on political participation. Implications are discussed for a mobilizing role of online media in the democratic process for young adults.

You can see my other posts on social media research.

Cheers!

Matt

photo CC zoonabar

Upcoming Events: Speaking on Social Media and Democracy

Image

I am very excited!  Tomorrow, April 30th, I will be traveling to Washington, DC to participate as a U.S. Speaker and Specialist in the United States State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP). This amazing program, which I had the honor of participating in last year, provides informational outreach around the world.

This engagement will be in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava in the Slovak Republic. I will have the pleasure of speaking via video conference with students in Slovakia. The subject I will be speaking on is the rise of social media as a tool for democratic participation, my area of research expertise.

I recently had an opportunity to speak on a similar topic to the Rotary Club of Shepherdstown West Virginia. However, my presentation to the IIP will be focus more on my recent and forthcoming publications.

Thinking over the many changes we’ve seen in social media and political campaigns in the last few years, I’m excited to share some new thoughts and preliminary findings from our 2012 election survey.

I hope everyone’s semester is coming to a close in a relaxing and non-chaotic fashion as possible!

-Cheers!
Matt

photo: CC y robposse