I recently listened to Clay Shirky give a TED Talk championing my favorite view of social media: The idea that it’s a world-changing revolution and a profoundly good thing. Shirky, author and adjunct professor in New York University’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, titled the talk, How social media can make history, and begins by telling us, “The moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

When most of us hear the words social media, we think first of Twitter and Facebook. Folks like Shirky consider those names to be tiny chirps in a historical roar: The mysterious and magical human drive for ever more freedom. Like an infant driven to walk or speak, we have within us the drive to be masters of our own lives.

As Shirky walks us through the classic progression of communication revolutions, from the printing press to (and through) the internet, the increasingly free flow of expression—unhindered by time, distance or “editors”—feels as exhilarating as the open road or the moment we (at about age two) discovered the power of “No”.

In that sense, this moment is revolutionary because it is not new. It is part of a natural progression, a Freedom Continuum, an ongoing unfolding of our humanness.

Social media’s most golden moments have been when group organizers understood, to quote Shirky, “that their role … was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters”.

A not-so-secret recipe for tapping the Freedom Continuum:

  • Stop using social media as just another broadcast tool
  • Stop using it only for announcing events, posting links to your photos and blog posts, even occasionally “re-tweeting” relevant messages
  • Stop trying to control how other people see you
  • Start being responsible about how other people see you (wisdom from mackcollier.com)
  • Start seeking and building online relationships
  • Start contributing thoughtfully and honestly to online conversations
  • Start listening and asking questions at least as much as you are promoting your product or cause

If you follow the recipe, I predict that you’ll begin to sense your experience of history—your place in the human story—is changing. I can’t predict how it will happen for you, only that it will. I would like to suggest that you’ll also sense your own place as a driving force and co-author of this unfolding story.

Welcome to the revolution!

 

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