Before TV, We Communicated; Social Media is Such an Opportunity Now

Posted on October 12, 2009
Filed Under Communication principles | 3 Comments

I went to a seminar on social media today and both enjoyed and bemoaned it – enjoyed it because I got reaffirmation of what social media is about, bemoaned it because the presenter didn’t make that clear enough. It’s about a change in life and listening style.

Social media is about attempting to recreate the wonderful lives we had before television. That is, the way we interacted with friends and neighbors in the suburb I grew up in on Long Island, N.Y., N.Y., before television arrived in the early ’50s.

Before TV, and this, admittedly, was largely during Word War II, the big events, the memorable events in our neighborhood, were when the neighbors got together – and my parents and their neighborhood friends did that without much prompting. They planted Victory Gardens in the vacant lots behind our homes (since built-up), or they organized block parties, when they were empowered to put up sawhorses at the ends of our street and enjoy a keg of beer and pretzels without a permit from the city. Those are wonderful memories, and they were wonderful experiences, but they aren’t any longer possible in most places.

When television came, we all went into our living rooms, stayed there, and you could see the glow from each front window. Howdy Doody, Ed Sulivan, Ted Mack, the ball games, whatever. We all had to have “a set,” and when we got TV, we stayed in front of it – black and white and, then – color! One-way communication from the networks became the rule. My folks no longer went to the taproom on Hillside Avenue to be with their friends, nor did they crack a keg on 86th Avenue, our home street, any longer.

Then I went away to college and quit brooding about it. But my folks stayed in front of the TV, and, I’m convinced, had shorter, less pleasurable lives because of it.

Now I see people trying to recreate that former sort of community in a new manner on social media – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, without realizing, probably that that’s what they’re doing, because they don’t realize what they lost when communication became one-way in the near and far suburbs alike.

Because it’s computer mediated, social media communication isn’t the same – it’s not as personal and close-up – but it’s a lot better than watching “the tube,” it’s a form of two-way communication again.

When people say, as today’s seminar presenter should have and could have, that social media requires a change in lifestyle, it really does. It requires you to take time to engage someone on the computer, and that may take a while, weeks or months, even, like it did in our neighborhood before we found ourselves out on the street talking casually together. (Shoveling snow was another great communal activity, and maybe that can still be done. And, of course, there was also the ice cream truck with its jingly bells in the summer).

My computer doesn’t jingle, and my social media friends or acquaintances don’t shake my hand, but I increasingly value them, nonetheless. They bring me back, somewhat, to the Victory Gardens and keg parties of 86th Avenue during and after World War II and before TV. I miss those days, and I’m glad to have these new opportunities on my computer and the Internet.


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