There are loads of books and gazillions of web sites and blogs on social media. You could spend the rest of your life reading about it – the data, the theories, the what-have-you.
But if you really want to understand social media you can cut to the chase and read just one guy: Kurt Vonnegut.
I recommend Slapstick. He defines and explains it there.
I’m sure Vonnegut had no idea he was writing about social media but, as it turns out, that is what he was doing. The story he was telling in Slapstick explains why social media is so popular. He speaks of the need it fills.
Much of the discussion about social media focuses on utility. It allows us to do this or that. It can be leveraged in a certain way. We can exchange information, relate and develop it, expand and share ideas, promote brands and so on.
A lot of this assumes a base of users – often a consumer base. Because we see a usefulness to it in terms of business and other organizations, we tend to neglect the most fundamental reason people are on the various social media platforms. It fills a need, especially for that large consumer base. Connection.
Vonnegut talks about this directly.
One of themes Vonnegut kept going back to in his books, and especially in Slapstick, was the idea of extended families. The reason is expressed in the book’s subtitle, “Lonesome No More!” In the book, through a kind of lottery system, people are given additional names. For example, my name might be Bill Diamond-10 Wren. I’m arbitrarily connected to everyone else named Diamond, and particularly those named Diamond-10. We’re an extended family.
Yes, it’s very silly but Vonnegut’s books usually were silly. But they were serious too. (They were also very funny. I remember coming home years ago and finding my father, who had stayed home with the flu and picked up the book to pass the time, laughing so hard he was crying. He yelled at me, “This is the craziest damned thing I’ve ever read!”)
But what has that got to do with social media? Well, it lies in the reason for giving people those names, which was to create extended families – create more people to connect with, more groups to feel a part of.
They were excuses for people to get together and feel they had something in common, something to share with each other. People are crazy for it – perhaps now more than ever given the huge numbers concentrated in cities and the tremendous anonymity we feel exists. People want a sense of connection.
We tend to speak of communication quite a bit but connection precedes communication and is often the only reason people communicate. Hence, we often see tweets we consider noise, status updates that seem irrelevant. The point isn’t what is communicated; it is simply that something is communicated in order to establish connection.
While we discuss the technology, the apps and speculate on the marketing potential and how best to use social media, it’s a good idea to keep in mind what Vonnegut describes, the raison d’être of social media. (I want to say as far as consumers go but while the business world often wears a more serious, practical face, this is often the same reason for their use.)
Connection. Community. Shared values and beliefs, ideas and debates. Groups of people we belong with.
It’s extended families we connect with online, a world described and defined by Kurt Vonnegut.
(*Strictly speaking, you could say connection is a form of communication. But it’s of a particular and limited – though necessary – kind.)
Note: I found a name-generator online based on Vonnegut’s Slapstick. It’s a site called The Surrealist. I know nothing about this site, so I can’t recommend it one way or another. I can’t say whether it is safe or not. It is, however, where I got the name Bill Diamond-10 Wren.
- After 30 years: Kurt Vonnegut and Slapstick
- Impressions: who exactly are you?
- So it goes: Kurt Vonnegut exits
(Some of the older posts have some character (as in text) flaws due to one of the many software updates a few years and those errors have yet to be fully corrected.)