Nov 30 2011

My Foray Into Social Media

Roughly 3 years ago, a good friend of mine started telling me about a newer social media outlet. He said I should jump on there and it would be a way to connect in quick bursts over our busy lives. It sounded interesting but I was not sold. Finally, since I have a lot of respect for this person, I decided to wade in and see what happens. The outlet was called “Twitter” and over 6,000 tweets later, I‘m still on it and it’s become a very useful connection point and information aggregator. Since then, I’ve also built the more obligatory LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, using them in very different ways, and I think Google+ has potential but it’s going to take some time. Overall, there are a number of things I like about social media and benefits that I have seen. There are also a number of downsides and weaknesses of social media that I’ve noticed, things that I am not a fan of.

What I Like: Professional Connections and Instant News

My Twitter[7]

The social media engagement by others in the arena of civil engineering is slowly growing on Twitter. It’s still minimal but it’s moving along. However, one key part of my job is trying to keep our office up to speed in GIS and Geospatial technologies and systems. The geospatial industry has, to say the least, embraced Twitter and has become a major network. These folks have been an excellent source of wisdom and news and technical help. The use of social media in the geospatial industry, including the use of video technology and technical blogging, has even spurred minor discussion of what the need for conferences is anymore.

In Twitter, you see things happening in real time, and it is simply amazing. From breaking news about floods and tsunamis to software updates, new blog posts, and even to a friend’s mom passing away, there is no more delay. Over the past year, it’s been phenomenal to practically watch and track events across the world and U.S. live, from the flooding in Minot to the death of Bin Laden. Tweeting local driving conditions and last minute meeting updates becomes useful in this environment. Collaboration is one of the major things we’ve seen happen through Twitter in the Iran political uprising, conferences, and especially local organizations. This doesn’t work quite the same without the real time capability. The downside is that this can be overwhelming and distracting but there are filters and applications like TweetDeck & Hootsuite to help.

I also appreciate hearing about how friends are doing. When life is especially difficult (death in the family, illness), social media is a quick way to let friends and family know what is going on. When my wife had last minute surgery a week ago, I used Twitter and Facebook to let people know and keep them updated. Yes, we talked to certain family and friends by phone but social media was another route to let friends and extended family know what was going on. People were able to ask how to help and a number of friends have brought us much needed meals.

However, the “status updates” lead to a lot of what I don’t like about social media…

What I Don’t Like: The Trend Towards Narcissism and Away From Authentic Relationships


This cartoon cracks me up because it’s dead on. It exaggerates a little how most people I know use Twitter but it’s a perfect illustration of the tendency of Facebook.  Facebook is 95% about me, not information sharing, or building connections that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Facebook is almost purely status updates. This is what I’m doing. This is how my day was. Please click the "like" button. Please comment on my status so I feel good about myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m on Facebook. There are some great uses for it. Most of my family and extended family are on it. But it does trend towards exhibitionism.

All of social media has this tendency: to talk about yourself and dramatize your life. Twitter at least has more of a culture of sharing information or a link or something that helped you, engaging in short dialog, and passing on news. Yes, there are status updates, but that’s not the power of Twitter or the direction it has gone. The power in Twitter is in its real time speed and dialog. Also, those on Twitter follow and unfollow each other all the time and it’s no big deal (unlike “unfriending” someone). There’s also a difference between following and listening!

The truth is that apart from sharing knowledge and following news, if professional or friendly connections built using social media do not eventually lead to actual correspondence or face time, they will always be shallow and limited. We all know this. But this truth should influence how we utilize social media. Otherwise, your “followers” become purely a number to puff up your ego!

What are your thoughts? Will civil engineers ever embrace the use of social media? How have you waded into social media?

12 Reasons to Start Twittering

The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

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