SMC_MCR: Is Social Media Cafe losing its Way?

I don’t write very often. Last night was a night of heightened passions at SMC_MCR. Helen Keegan (@heloukee) was the brave volunteer who wanted (I think) to talk about her experiences of observing the role of social media in motivating and leveraging the Occupy movement in the United States.

This would have been an interesting discussion in itself. SMC_MCR has always prided itself on being able to have interesting and diverse presentations on the role of technology (and in particular social technology) in people’s work and in people’s lives.

But I think the flavour of last night’s event was markedly different from any previous SMC. Indeed, I’d say that there was very little in the way of discussion on the role of social media or other technologies. Helen bravely pushed the contributions she’d seen with socially curated imagery from the events in America, along with various tweets. These would have been interesting to explore, but the audience (perhaps mea culpa here) wanted to simply explore the Occupy movement itself.

My view is that many people who attended SMC were not really interested in a discussion of the role of Social Media and other interesting mediating technologies – they were more interested in a discussion of ideology of Occupy itself.

Now sure that’s fascinating but I think it’s outside of the remit of the event. As one member of the audience declared, there was already a meeting about Occupy elsewhere in the city – and to paraphrase – this member of the audience thought that SMC having a similarly themed evening that prevented other Occupy-interested people from attending was a bourgeois ploy. With that I think the evening was set to become a political discussion about a political movement than a technologically themed discussion and how that technology supported a contemporary issue. And lacking something else to offer I guess I joined in as the wind-up merchant I am.

My views on Occupy are irrelevant in this post, but the danger of last night is that SMC essentially became a talk shop for liberal politics rather than the relatively politicly agnostic talk shop for interesting issues in technology that it should be. There’s nothing wrong with discussion and debate surrounding liberal politics and tactics. But the context of SMC is not the place for it.

Why is that dangerous? SMC_MCR relies on a good groundswell of regular and new members and participants to make it an engaging event. It needs support from differing communities within the City to make it work. It needs to be a place to network (networking is key for the business community as well as the social community). By becoming what it became last night, SMC runs the risk of alienating much of its core membership and ultimately suffer an untimely demise. Somehow it needs to find its way back to its roots – something of the social, digital and techie vibe that got people excited.

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4 thoughts on “SMC_MCR: Is Social Media Cafe losing its Way?

  1. Thanks for the thoughts, David. You say “Somehow it needs to find its way back to its roots – something of the social, digital and techie vibe that got people excited.” I feel that last month was a more traditional SMC_MCR, with people showing off their new digital products. We’re trying out different ideas to see what works. Personally, my own thoughts on the Occupy movement only crystallised about 10 seconds after we wrapped up, so I plan to write about them separately.

    We just aim to bring a different flavour to each event – from digital innovation to more social issues around technology, there’s room for it all.

    • I agree there’s room for it all. Last night was not about the social issues around technology – which I had hoped it would be and for which there is room. It was definitely something else in which the technology was lost

  2. I think the fact that we had at least two people there who had visited #Occupy sit-ins and both are digitally literate made the link between digital, social media and politics very apposite.

    Plus the really interesting thing about digital technologies are what they do in terms of human accomplishment not just what they ‘are’. There is always space for examining the what of digital: sometimes the why is much more fascinating.

    • I thought the debate was fascinating. However, in spite of there being at least 2 digitally literate people who had experienced Occupy, less than 5% of the dialogue was about the role of digital/social within the movement (or within any movements for that matter). Agreed – it should be about how the tech allows people to accomplish something. But this is not what the debate was about – it was about the Occupy movement per se, not Occupy and its use of social media.

      The why may be fascinating. However when the Why dominates the a dialogue in an environment where the “What” is key, you lose the point of the environment.

      I could have gone to a choice of meetings this week about Occupy – indeed I will – but I went SMC not to debate Occupy but to discuss the digital/social tech and its implications for all sorts of movements – I asked about how organisations such as Al-Queada (on the road so no spell checking there) and The Taliban (equally interesting movements using tech) were using platforms to manage their message. No one talked about that. It was a meeting about Occupy and the principles behind (for and against) Occupy.

      And as a result, it put a lot of people off SMC. It moved away from its unwritten manifesto. Even if it was very interesting.

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