It’s Time To Social Mediate

Colorful graphics are key to social media, and to their meta-navigation (src)

Time to what? Social Mediate. I’m going to define this in hopes that do-gooders at large can effectively use the term to inspire change through a network of concerned (or pissed off) individuals. Social media, is, of course, what we’re doing right now: blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, sharing, linking, texting, and so on. Wikipedia defines it as:

…media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.

To mediate, of course, is to facilitate, to run smoothly, to help this “dialogue” along and allow various parties to get what they want. Random House drops these particuarly poignant definitions: settle (disputes, strikes, etc.) as an intermediary between parties; reconcile. bring about (an agreement, accord, truce, peace, etc.) as an intermediary between parties by compromise, reconciliation, removal of misunderstanding, etc. effect (a result) or convey (a message, gift, etc.) by or as if by an intermediary.

Based on this, I would like to draft the following: to social mediate is to use dynamic technologies in the most efficient scope to facilitate dialogue and understanding, as well as and foster connectedness between groups. Let me attempt to explain what I mean by this:

We want to use dynamic technologies such as social networking, text messaging, or crowdsourcing, to reach people. A lot of people. In fact, the largest amount of people we can – Wikipedia’s use of the terms “accessible and scalable” attest to this, but I don’t want to limit it to “communication techniques” or the word “media.” As broad as those terms are, “dynamic technologies” encompasses almost anything, from wind-up laptops distributed to children in Africa to equipment monitoring for carbon emission tracking. All of these can be fed into databases, presented to individuals, and used to convey ideals for change.

This could be an example social mediation toolkit. (src)

We want to use technology in the most “efficient scope” because waste is inevitable, and often ignored for the sake convenience. Energy use, packaging, shipping, even energy vampires – in our quest for change we must be aware of the repercussions, both locally and globally. At the same time, efficiency matters in the “who” and “how” the message/idea/compromise is presented. E-mail spam has become an incredibly inefficient way of obtaining customers versus highly targeted Facebook advertisements.

Dialogue is at the heart of social media. Ten years ago, you could hardly e-mail Coca Cola – now you can post on their Facebook wall for the world to see. Businesses and organizations are forced to become more transparent, and this is generally a good thing. Understanding is crucial: Nestle understood that their customers didn’t want to eat palm oil that caused rain forest destruction or lead to orangutan extinction. And we want connectedness on issues that matter – it was connectedness that caused millions of frustrated Cairenes to “fight like an Egyptian.”

Social mediation isn't always pretty. Sometimes it takes some a hardened message to get the point across. (src)

I use the word “groups” to avoid speciesism and to be, again, as broad as possible. While it may be difficult to enter into a dialogue with whales, groups like Sea Shepard can social mediate to connect us to them, and have us understand their plight. All groups, from a lowly caste in India, to politicians in Washington, or even a collection of endangered species can be included in this idea, this encompassing of using technology to improve lives. Pictures of distress, such as those from Japan’s recent tsunami, or of elephants being tortured at circuses, can be instantaneously shared with millions of people to effect real change. This goes beyond the idea of “sharing” or just simply being social with links and clicks. I think we can use this framework to social mediate and say to our fellow men and women: “this in injust, and we must fix this.” Or, to simply share joy, and mediate towards even more happiness.

I pose the question to the reader: is this a worthy goal, or are we traveling a road already rutted with an inflection-less, unemotional Internet woes: armchair activists and big-brother surveillance? Is my definition of “social mediation” too broad to do any good, or can we create a new buzzword to inspire the citizens of Twitterverse and Farmville to do something that matters? That, my friends, is up to you. While I think it is possible, we have a long road ahead of us.

Note: While I surmise their definition is different than mine, someone has created the domain and and an accompanying Twitter account. Like many movements, both sites seem to have stalled out.