Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Quit Following Me

Yesterday afternoon on the bus ride home, I watched from the window as a flock of birds circled and dived around the roof of a high-rise apartment complex. One bird had a slight lead, several others were a length behind, while another three dozen or so were clustered in pursuit. I turned in my seat to watch for as long as I could, before the bus turned completely out of sight.

Being the kind of person I am, I naturally thought: "Twitter". I mean, wouldn't you?

The interesting thing about this spectacle was the seemingly random path of the leader.

My thoughts at the time: What the hell are they doing? Is this airborne mass delusion? A group labouring under the misapprehension that the bird out front has some idea where he's going? Or is this just avian recreation? Do birds have fun? God I'm hungry. I also feel a headache coming on. Need gum.

After supper, another thought: Not long after I opened my Twitter account and started this blog, one of my followers referred to me as a social media expert. This was obviously intended as a compliment, but at the time it made me feel uneasy.

Yes, I've been using a computer since the Apple ][+ was cutting edge consumer technology. Yes, I ran a series of Bulletin Board Systems in the early 1990s. Yes, I created my own personal web page not long after that. I bought high speed cable Internet as soon as it was available. I started experimenting with Linux in 1998. I install operating systems and deploy content management systems for fun. To sum it up: I am a certifiable geek. Granted, I'm missing the science or engineering degree, but when I walk into the midst of a pack of geeks, they quickly sniff me out as one of their own.

Am I a social media expert? I'm not even sure I know what that means.

I take to all things technological like those birds take to the sky, but can someone be an expert at something they've only been involved with for a period of months? I wouldn't believe this to be the case with other people, so I certainly can't believe it to be true of myself.

Sometimes I feel like that bird out in front, earnestly propelling myself who-knows-where. But often I'm one of the pursuers, madly flucking (is that a word?) for all I'm worth to keep up with the rest of you.

I tweet content that I hope is helpful. I share resources that I hope are valuable. I write this blog, with its combination of technology, philosophy, evangelism and introspection. And then there are the posts like this one which I carefully file under 'ignorable content' — and yet they are more widely read than some of the serious content I produce.  Phooey.

I do not call myself an expert, nor will I ever designate myself with any title or label purporting any kind of superiority at anything. Not a whiz, not a guru, not the Grand Poobah.

Embrace skepticism. Beware of people that tout their own expertise — and I'm not talking about the obvious (and forgive the web.2.0 vernacular) social media d-bags — but those who seem to have some value, but on the whole spend more energy crafting their public image than producing real content or effecting real change.  Anyone that would put themselves on a pedestal should stand with arms outstretched, ready to fly; while anyone that would put another person on a pedestal should feel free to shove it regularly, and topple it occasionally and without warning.

My feet are firmly grounded.  My value, whatever that is, comes from the value of what I produce and my utility to colleagues and contacts.  My reputation, whatever that is, exists independently of me.

I have precisely as much power and influence as I am granted by others. Grant carefully.