Of serendipity, introverts and extroverts, social media and shooting the ambulance…


Once again signals converge to a particular direction in my flowing web of interests. Serendipity… That really might be the master word of social media – or shared media. Indeed this morning I come across this recent blog post by Antony Mayfield about social media being shared media – a rather inspiring term to describe catch-all ‘social media’. It comes at a very timely moment as me and my colleagues are putting together a social media guide about African knowledge on climate change adaptation. And we are trying to find a better term for social media, at least to question this cumbersome catch-all phrase.

So there’s this kind of serendipity – the ‘pregnant women serendipity‘: a selective look at the world as with pregnant women spotting pregnant women all around them because they are more alert to it than your average earthling.

But then there’s another kind of serendipity the ‘simultaneous inventions serendipity‘ – related to the phenomenon of inventions bubbling up and appearing around the same time in various places, something that Antony Mayfield (déjà vu?) also blogged about in passing reference (Antony, enjoy this, I probably never will refer to you twice in a blog post again!). Social media make this kind of serendipity much more obvious and expand it through the phenomenon of trending topics/conversations.

In that second serendipity avenue, there’s been a lot of talk recently about introverts vs. extroverts and the fact that social media seem to stifle the participation of the not-so-socially-comfortable among us. In my sphere, it all started around a few articles on team building, creativity and introverts: ‘5 reasons to hate teambuilding‘ (a recent blog post on HR career success), ‘Groupthink‘ (an article by the New Yorker) showing that brainstorming leads to fewer ideas than with people thinking independently, ‘Woz on creativity: work alone‘ (on the excellent Brain Pickings site) and the more recent ‘overcoming the introvert factor: communicating climate change in an age of uncertainty‘ which triggered a little conversation with my mate Michael Victor from the Challenge Program Water and Food.

Introverts and extroverts, two approaches to express ourselves, on social media and in life (credits: Alphadesigner / FlickR)

Introverts and extroverts, two approaches to express ourselves, on social media and in life (credits: Alphadesigner / FlickR)

I certain recognise that introverts should be considered carefully in conversations and that not all group-think is good, but when it comes to social media I argue that it is a false argument to hold them responsible for extroverts feeling sidelined by ‘communicators’.

In my view it relates to the pacing and approach in thinking, writing (or developing) and sharing behaviours:

  • Thinking: When we mention ‘social media’, most people think of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the ‘viral’ element that they support very effectively. But viral sharing is only one of the characteristics and approaches of social media. Of some social media. In their nature, wikis favour collaboration therefore more reflective work than just viral sharing; Delicious stacks, Pinterest boards, FlickR galleries and the likes feature collections of content, they have been thought through and by definition offer a longer shelf life than a tweet or facebook update. What beats all of this though, much more considerably: blogs really do encourage slow thinking space and offer a place of choice for thinkers. There is a whole variety of think-pacing dynamics in social media. as mentioned in this post ‘KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space‘.
  • Writing: In fact, I would even argue that thinking before you write makes you more likely to write quality content and to attract interest in social media. If anything, introverts should thus be able to find more value in social media than fluffy extroverts. Or perhaps more to the point, both can find their place and space in the shared media world. There are different dynamics at play. There are different ways of giving birth to our ideas and the variety of social media caters for our different styles. It has to be said, though, that blogging and perhaps to a lesser extent other social media interactions change the way we think and write, but I think for the better, following the rules of knowledge ego-logy: to be loved, you must come up with good stuff.
  • Sharing: The other side of the equation is the social side of things: how readily do people engage with one another and share their ideas and information? Extroverts will meet people as they breathe and share readily. Introverts might find this more daunting. Yet again, the (partial) anonymity that a computer or mobile phone screen offers in our social media interactions breaks barriers to share. This very interesting and challenging blog post / essay shows that even pathologically shy people can find their niche on Facebook (and it does argue convincingly that it doesn’t make people more prone to fight their shyness, but that’s another discussion). More to the point: social media are all about the network you build and interact with. Regardless of its size. You first tend to engage with kindred people. I cannot believe that introverts cannot connect with others, with the benefit of breaking down the barriers of physical interactions.
Bearing this in mind, yes we need to pay attention to using social media in a way that does not single out introverts (or simply thinkers) and their progressive and slower-paced approach. Perhaps we need to develop more opportunities for training and coaching on the use of these social media. But criticising social media for sidelining introverts is like shooting at the ambulance: it is targeting the channel not the person using it, it is misguided, over-simplified, not to mention the strait-jacketting it suggests, by putting all introverts and extroverts in one same bag. And perhaps judging social media in that way is simply a lame excuse for some to not write and share… There’s still people out there thinking that knowledge is power too…
So extroverts, please come out of the ambulance and show that you can prove cliché-hunters and lazy naggers wrong because I know you can ;) I used to be an introvert too…
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One thought on “Of serendipity, introverts and extroverts, social media and shooting the ambulance…

  1. Pingback: Myths about my current self | The girl who shoots the world

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