One reason I like the social media scene and its growing networks is that people are generally friendly, open and willing to share new ideas. Geeks, techies, webbies are not (beneath the surface) entirely obsessed with code and cool tools, whatever the popular perception.
However, because social media tools are good for conversations, widening connections, and working with others, there’s a temptation – if you are in the business – to suggest that adopting the technology will in itself lead to social innovation. That’s to fall into the technology trap. Tech-led seldom works on its own because people need new skills and mindsets. Frustrating.
Rohan Gunatillake, who leads the Web Connect strand within NESTA’s Connect team, is turning the problem on its head by promoting ungeeking – although as you’ll see that doesn’t mean abandoning technology. The Web Connect team believe:
… that all innovation is, in essence, something we do together. When boundaries are crossed, be they between organisations, interests or geographies, the new conversations that result can lead to effective action and unexpected benefits.
Rohan suggests – if I understand him correctly – that the technology can help in two ways. Directly if you are ready to adopt it, and indirectly because collaborative behaviours learned in the online social environment are now leaking into the non-tech world and reminding us that we can re-adopt participative behaviours we’ve always known about. See Howard Rheingold speaking at NESTA for more on that.
I met up with Rohan at Amplified08 last week, and invited him to preview a blog post – provisionally untitled Ungeeking the Nation, I believe - that he’s been planning for a little while … and in a typically open and collaborative spirit he gave me the four-minute version above.
As you’ll hear, Rohan feels that non-tech collaborative activities like Barcamps and unconferences – including Amplified08 – are being adopted by geeks, and then promoted back into the non-geek world. They are “social media made flesh”. There’s nothing new in these techniques, but social media is helping us relearn them. Young people who – increasingly – adopt social media and its ways of doing things, expect to find similar behaviours distributed more widely in society.
I wrote recently that perhaps The Web 2.0 magic is fading – meaning that simplistic evangelising of social media isn’t going far. Rohan has a more sophisticated message that we can use social media to sprinkle some older, more valuable magic dust to bring out our natural capacities for doing good things together. How do we explore further? At an unconference, I should think.
Update: Rohan has now given us more on ungeeking over here, with promise of a further article, and an invite to a very relevant screening.