Sunday, 16 August 2009

Social, individual or a mix of both?

Neil Perkin recently highlighted the Mark Earl's book "Herd" on his blog as a useful read in the current social media whirl. Neil has even blogged about it here recently which reminded to to put keyboard to screen and try to say "hey now wait up"!

In reading Mark Earls' book I recognise I am one of those people who do not totally agree with the concept that we are purely social animals - it smacks of pure Darwinism to me. Whilst I agree we socially relate there is a case for the individual. If you read the work of Frankl, to quote the sleeve of "The Doctor & the Soul", he "...retained the belief that the most important freedom of all is the freedom to determine one's own spiritual well-being."

A dramatic example would, I believe, be our own death-bed - it will be the finality of that experience that will drive home the fact that for all our social relations we are left with our self.

It is in that context we can see the challenges of the internet and how we relate to known people and unknown folk through the intermediation of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter etc. using in some instances the technology of video cameras. It is fascinating to see Michael Wesch's work at Kansas, especially the initial reactions of individuals speaking to camera - without a clear social signal of who they are speaking to they are left with the raw sense of themselves. I would suggest that this is what might be considered for many, "a threshold experience" as they move to a true awakening of a sense of self. Michael Wesch in his blog piece pointed this out when he said,
"Hallway conversations [@ Personal Democracy Forum] were different than your typical conversations. Instead of lots of people saying, “You know, somebody should … ” there were lots of people saying, “So I did this, this, and this, and now I’m working on doing this, this, and this and we should collaborate … ” In other words, it was a bunch of people blessed with what I once heard Yochai Benkler and Henry Jenkins call “critical optimism.”

So we go from "others" in the social "should" to individuals feeling empowered to do something, "I did". To say that it is all social misses the point that it is only through individual's (first) acting in a social context does that social context comes alive.

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