By now you've probably heard about Harrisburg University's social media experiment. “What would happen,” the school's powers that be asked, “if we banned social media on campus for a week?”
The results were predictable. Some students were angry at being denied acccess to Facebook, Twitter, et al. Others found renewed appreciation for more intimate forms of communication. The school's establishment warned of social media's “hidden pitfalls” and worried that the tools, “if not managed properly, can take over (students') lives.”
Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Look, I give the folks at Harrisburg an A for effort. Experimentation is a healthy way of answering some of life's biggest questions.
Social media, though, doesn't qualify.
What's the big issue here? That people are communicating? Making connections? Expanding their personal and professional networks?
Curse you, social media.
Heck, while we're at it, why don't we ban telephones and e-mail, too?
Social networking isn't some earth-shattering new strategy that needs to be dissected. We've been doing it for thousands of years. Anytime you bring two or more people into a room, that's a social network. The only thing that's changed is that we now have tools that let us communicate and collaborate on a much larger scale. Some guidelines and perspective are needed, sure. But these are just tools that let us humans do what we do best — socialize. We're always going to find new and better ways of doing that.
The issue isn't social media's potential. It's our own misunderstanding of its potential. Anything new is always met with a large dose of skepticism, particularly when it comes to technology.
- An internal Western Union memo offered this infamous opinion in 1876: “This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
- Lord Kelvin, a Scottish mathematician and physicist, famously predicted in 1897 that “radio has no future.”
- Lee DeForest, a radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, said this in 1926: “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”
- Of the microprocessor, IBM executive Robert Lloyd asked this in 1968: “But what … is it good for?”
- In 1977, Digital Equipment Corp. founder and President Ken Olson said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Years from now, I'm guessing we'll look back on Harrisburg University's experiment and say to ourselves, “How quaint.”
I'm not saying social media is here to stay. It's not. Sometime soon, some new form of communication will come along and blow social media out of the water. And that's the point.
Time to start rolling with the changes, folks.