Socially… social!

5 08 2011

I hit 50 next month (there; I’ve said it. It’s not old; my dad made it to 98…). When I was 13 or 14 we got introduced to the school DEC (remember them?) eduSystem, with 4k of memory (you won’t remember much), an ASR 33 Teletype and a paper-tape reader.

When I was 18 I landed a job advertised as “night shift computer operator” which turned out to be “run computer bureau, both shifts”. There we had PDP/8a-500s (64 k of memory: ook!) and soon a PDP/11-34 with (ta-daaa!) 96k and a couple of 4MB disk drives, each the size and shape of a top loading washing-machine. The 11-34 arrived in a pantechnicon with a stack of manuals as tall as I was; the boss did the wiring and I had to work out the OS. Those were the days…

And now I see this:

For once, Scott Adams has it wrong. That isn’t a Grandpa Box. A Grandpa Box fills a room with furniture and cables and a choice of mono gray or mono green CRTs.

And, more importantly, smartphones and tablets (yawn) – been there done that. What is ACTUALLY rather hard for an old-school COBOL, “sort this 4MB file using only two 1.2MB disk packs”, grunt is to understand Social Media. But Social is the “be there or be square” of the 21st Century. I think I am finally starting to get there.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a classic early adopter, at least when it comes to free stuff that might challenge and stimulate the neural pathways, so yes, I had a facebook account and a linkedin account and blogger (I was really early on that one) and twitter when they were all still pretty fresh. But unlike the various programming technologies I have picked up to keep up, most of this (barring blogging) social paraphenalia produced a complete “No Signal, check your cable” response from ze little gray cells.

The problem for us ancient ones with Social is that  it looks like some form of exhibitionism; something we were always dissuaded from indulging in (strap / cane / 1000 lines, “my tongue is an unruly member”) rather forcefully. In fact (always allowing that the exceptions are now rather visible from everywhere on the planet), the Social generation seem to have a very clear sense of how to control and channel their disclosure; the real power of Social is something Kevin Kelly articulated rather well in New Rules for the New Economy (1998), namely that it is all about FREE. As such, for me at any rate, Social now fits into a well-trodden vector of adding value for free, in order to be first choice port-of-call when important, non-free stuff needs to be accomplished (or, in retail, when the lumpy objects need to be bought).

Still, it is a complex landscape to navigate, but I am finding it makes more sense when you steer by “add (real / great) value for free that enhances your (or your brand’s) reputation with your current and prospective customers”. It was just so much simpler when most things in life, business and grandpa-box computing came with a wiring diagram and a manual…




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