THROUGH THE FIRE: The Attention Age or the Information Age: You Be the Judge

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trishamurakawaBy Trisha Murakawa
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Just got back from Vegas. What a fun trip.

We went with two other families-six adults and six kids and it was like a three-day-long slumber party and fun fest for the kids. The adults also found ways to entertain themselves at various gaming establishments and seemed to have fun as well.

During our trip, one of the dads commented about the popularity of the unnecessary to name social networking sites and how he feels they are nothing more than ways to get attention for users. He said these sites are proof that we live in the “attention age.”

Before I continue, I need to clarify that he, the dad (who is also, of course, my friend) doesn’t use any of these unnamed sites for networking, information, attention or anything else but his wife and three of the other adults on the trip do.

Attention Tools
My friend, the dad, said these sites are nothing more than tools to say “look at me, look at me!” when people use them to give their “friends” a play-by-play of what they’re doing throughout the day. True, these sites can be and probably are used for attention.

Admittedly, some of my “friends” post messages about when they wake up, where they are and what they’re doing and observing at various times throughout the day. Sometimes these posts are interesting and other times they are mundane and boring… but so is life.

Information Tools
I say these tools also can be used for spreading information quickly and expeditiously. Here’s one example. A few months ago, the daughter of a dear friend of mine passed away. She was a young woman, newly married with a fabulous career. A couple years after she was married, she unfortunately learned she had a very rare form of ovarian cancer and died about a year-and-a-half later.

My friend wanted to inform others of her daughter’s service as well as about the foundation she and her son created to fund research for rare cancers so others who suffer could have a chance at survival. I put the information about the passing of my friend’s daughter and where to get funeral information. Later, I put the information about the foundation up so people could make donations if they wanted.

Using the social networking site allowed me to spread the information quickly and reach many people who I didn’t even know knew my friend. It was an amazing and very positive experience.

You Decide
Here’s another example of a similar situation of reporting news about the sudden death of someone.

The weekend before Christmas, while the paparazzi was trying to uncover more mistresses of Tiger Woods, the actress Brittany Murphy died suddenly of apparent cardiac arrest. The breaking news alert was announced in the morning but during the evening news on at least one Los Angeles television news station, rather than reporting on the death of the popular actress, the lead story was instead about what Murphy former boyfriend and national opinion leader Ashton Kutcher “tweeted” about her.

The story was about the tweet, not about the actress’ death.

The Positives
Obviously, the positives about sites like these are that they allow the spread of important “need to know” information quickly, efficiently and with maximum penetration (can go to your entire network) with minimum effort like that of the death of my friend’s daughter, the details about the funeral and how friends could make supportive gestures.

The other good things about these sites are that they allow people to reconnect and know what’s going on in the lives of your “friends” (okay, now put your tongue in your cheek as you read this next part) without actually having to contact them in person, via phone, e-mail or other means of personal one-on-one contact.

Many of these sites do also have instant messaging and chat capabilities so if you want to have one-on-one contact, you can.

Another positive about these sites is that you can force your views on your “friends” through your postings like I have done when I posted the link to a live performance of Linkin Park’s song, “Hands Held High” someone put on youtube. (If you get a chance, you really should see it and listen to the message.)

The Negatives
One of the negatives about these sites, of course, is that this form of contact with “friends” can be impersonal. Maybe it can be compared one-way communication via mega-phone to a large group of people. Come to think of it, when I’m in a large group (also known as a crowd of people), and someone is talking to all of us with a megaphone, often, I can’t hear the message and probably tune it out.

The other negative about these sites is the potential for “rumor-mongering,” lies or even sabotage.

Think about it. In my line of work, I often think about whether or not to use these social networking sites to blast information about project updates and community meetings to large masses of people. The potential to alert an entire neighborhood that street parking will be prohibited for days at a time using a social networking site is very appealing.

But then the downside to this is that someone could post a nasty rumor or unfounded complaint about the project or my client and that would ruin the purpose of using the site to inform those affected.

Probably the two most negative aspects about these sites are that it could be a huge time waster and speech and the First Amendment could become an issue.

If I were an employer, I would prohibit access to these social networking sites on all work computers because I wouldn’t want my staff updating their posts while I’m paying their salaries.

And the issue of free speech on these sites is infinite. The list of “what ifs” is endless. A few to get your thoughts rolling:

• What if I post a disparaging message about my boss on my personal site and my boss sees it? Will I get fired?
• What are the implications of politically incorrect opinions posted if a person of authority sees these views?
• Will “Big Brother” come after me if someone criticizes government programs, elected officials or bureaucrats on their site(s)?

You see the list could go on forever.

You Decide
So are these social networking sites a call for attention or a tool for distributing useful information? You decide.

Post Script: I cannot judge since I would be accused of using this column as a call for attention as well. And yes, I am one of the six adults who has a profile on one of the above unnamed sites.
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Trisha Murakawa is a strategic communications and public affairs consultant based in Redondo Beach. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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2 Comments

  1. “Another positive about these sites is that you can force your views on your “friends” through your postings like I have done…”

    Forcing your views on others is a positive? Sounds like a big negative to me.

  2. The article states:

    “…speech and the First Amendment could become an issue…
    • What if I post a disparaging message about my boss on my personal site and my boss sees it? Will I get fired?
    • What are the implications of politically incorrect opinions posted if a person of authority sees these views?
    • Will “Big Brother” come after me if someone criticizes government programs, elected officials or bureaucrats on their site(s)?”

    How are these First Amendment issues? How are these “issues” whereby thoughts are posted on Facebook/MySpace etc. different compared to postings or distribution of opinions via other venues?

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