In learning how to use Social Media to expand myself and my work into the world, the whole thing has begun to feel too familiar. Einstein’s words run through my head:
“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
Don’t despair though. I don’t mean it the way it sounds. Closing the gap between our humanity and our technology is the true opportunity hidden in Social Media. We will, or at least should, close that gap by elevating our humanity, not by bringing the technology down with how we use it.
This has always been the challenge. In every institution, every new idea, the possibility to raise the water exists. But as T. E. Lawrence wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom:
We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.
We have a window, a window that might not be open for very long. If we miss it, if it closes, Social Media will simply become what TV has become– a wasteland of entertainment that has seen its creative possibilities overcome by its ability to influence impulses and increase consumption. The studies that tell us that more people watch television than before suggests that television is alive, but let’s not interpret that to mean it is well. Social Media has no reason to believe it cannot suffer the same fate.
I’ve studied world class performers in a variety of fields from medicine, sports, music, business, the military, education, etc. This research revealed some fascinating distinctions between the people who lived lives they wanted to live and those who were stuck or unfulfilled. For the purpose of this post, what it revealed most was that they were “successful” precisely because they understood that their success counted on their own humanity. Only then did they look to the technology. As one world record holder I interviewed said, “Find the passion and put it to work.” And when they did this, when they felt this, their humanity grew and the technology kept improving.
The Social Media Superstars might be people you never know about, might never hear about, unless you look. And, well, that’s the real challenge isn’t it? They won’t be loud. They won’t seek attention. They might go broke in the pursuit of their own passion, ideas created and then expressed in public. Their “success” will depend on the rest of us. They are counting on that, counting on us.
As we push ever forward into this new universe, the gap between our technology and our humanity might be phrased a different way– that the opportunity for the promise of democracy (humanity) also meets the tools for the widespread of democracy (technology). It is up to us to decide if like in our Republic, we will allow its future to be determined by a few well funded representatives, in power not because the best has risen to the top, but driven by our choice to be consumers instead of creators… active, world class even, performers. The Superstars of Social Media will be those who elevate their humanity to the promise of the technology. Based on my research, here is what these Social Media Superstars might look like:
1. They will redefine work. Work is simply the march towards a fulfillment of the human promise, the gifts inside us that we develop into skills for quality living. Social media offers one of the most exciting tools ever for us to overcome the gap that exists between our life’s work and our jobs, between our standards of living and our quality of life. These people will effectively demonstrate that what makes us happy and therefore makes us healthy must be part of any successful process. They will prove that how we feel matters and that it is THE competitive advantage in everything we do, for every company seeking to grow.
2. They will create and develop tools that tap our inner reserves of energy, our curiosity, our passion, our love for what we do. They will create places and open up spaces where this inner energy is no longer the mysterious “touchie-feelies” fraught with peril and unpredictability, but energy reserves that drive the purest forms of work for individuals and teams and organizations. They will create labs for understanding the secrets of “team chemistry” and how to use them in our own lives. These spaces will serve as canvasses for us to create, to connect, and share. Maybe best of all, the space in each of us to listen and to be heard, spaces to rise above the scars of our pasts, instead of places merely to vent or pretend that life is good in times we don’t really mean it.
3. They will help us turn information into knowledge, knowledge that refines random energy into the fuel to do work, and allows passion to replace caffeine and drama. They will create places and spaces that elevate entertainment into engagement, engagement that results in progress that drills as deep inside ourselves as it moves us forward. We must know ourselves to know what matters before we know how to do what matters well.
4. They will expose “the Trick” for what it is, that youth can win, but is not skilled enough “to keep” as Lawrence wrote. The Social Media Superstars will never purposefully sell you something you “want,” but that you won’t like once you have it. They do not subscribe to planned obsolescence, but strategic growth into something better. The promise of Social Media is not found in the unleashing of the impulses of the people, but in the decreased time needed to find and connect with other people. Instead of the old way of Being Good and Doing Well, these superstars will provide a place for our better angels to Do Good and Be Well. They will also demonstrate and prove that this is not merely good business, but the best way to do business.
5. They will provide the tools and the spaces to fail and prosper. Every failure is a chance to learn the lessons and then forgive yourself for failing. You will remember what the Trick wants you to forget– that you sought something, not through knowledge, but out of “want,” out of impulse, that cost you far more than you received. You will discover that “knowing about” something is not enough, that “knowing” something is the only way. The Social Media Superstar will create places and experiences that let you know enough to try something, to put your hands on the keys and play, and fail, free of judgment, but accountable to the results. They will not just tell you what book to read that makes something difficult sound easy– until you actually do it yourself. You will learn from experience. You will connect with others who share the experience, the failures, and the desire to get better.
The Social Media Superstar will help you understand and feel the difference between passion and impulse. They will help you find your passion, what’s right about you, AND put it work. No impulse buys at the virtual checkout line.
In doing so, they might show us what so many of us wish for in our lives– work that fulfills us and the skills to do it well. A meaningful economy that builds tools and standards of living defined by the quality of life we seek, not the other way around or a game we play. What we like and love and create instead of what we think we want and consume. Businesses that profit from the creation and sales of the tools for living and people who know how to use them well. And for our children, the knowledge not only how to win, but to keep and sustain, and with that the trust that what matters is worth working for.