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.