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4.0 out of 5 stars We need more books like this, 22 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years (Paperback)
We need more books like this: books which look at the bigger picture behind this thing we are calling social media. The central idea of this book is that social media is nothing new - it is simply a return to a form of communication that has existed for centuries - and that media has only been anti-social (i.e. mass media) for a relatively short period of time, a time which is now ending.

However, what I found the most interesting was not so much the idea that the social nature of media hasn't changed (except recently) it was the fact that the reaction of society to changes in media is really what hasn't changed. Every time of new form of information sharing emerges - especially one which allows greater levels of participation - the old elites raise the same protests: the fact that the new participants are in some way unqualified to participate, or that participation is generally frivolous, time-wasting, or damaging to mankind's overall well-being. Of course, what is usually the only thing damaged is said elite's ability to run things in a way that has made them an elite in the first place.

Personally I don't entirely buy into the book's main premise. For example, I think the desire to focus on the social (i.e. interpersonal) nature of communication before mass media leads to an underestimation of the impact of printing. Printing was much more than pamphleting - albeit pamphlets were the main printed expressions of personal / political ideas. Likewise this focus may cause the importance of industrialised printing and the growth of the mass media to be over-emphasised. In reality, the elites have always been in control because the means of distributing information (be they slave messengers or steam printing presses) were always expensive.

This is the respect in which what we now call social media is genuinely new. For the first time in history the ability to share information is available to everyone (and not just people, objects can now share information). Information has been liberated from a restrictive means of distribution (i.e. media) and this is not just spelling the end of mass media, it is spelling the death of media itself. This has the potential to change societies in ways in which we can barely imagine. Rather than changing the institutions in which we place trust or authority, we are changing the nature of trust or authority itself so that it no longer lives in any form of institution (newspaper, bank, university, government), rather it lives in forms of transparent processes. It also creates a world which is no longer driven by just information, but by data - a language that no human can ever speak.

However, this is just my opinion (see chapters 2, 6 and 8 of an ebook Social Media and The Three Per Cent Rule: how to succeed by not talking to 97 per cent of your audience I have published, if you will excuse the plug) and it doesn't damage the value of the book and the fascinating insights and observations that emerge from what is, essentially, a review of the history of media.
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