The title of his talk, “Content Nation: Social media and the effects of Internet technologies on publishing,” is also the name of his new book, a collection of blog posts, edited and published, in print, by John Wiley.
Now don’t get me wrong. I was not upset that Blossom’s talk was an hour-long advertisement designed to sell his book, something David Crotty wryly notes as the business model of many Web 2.0 publishing ventures. It was the content that got me mad.
If the talk had been merely a collection of unrelated stories about how social media changes peoples lives, my cognitive state would have resulted in mere boredom. But these stories were connected with several troublesome themes:
- technological determinism
- biological determinism
- cultural determinism
- and more disturbingly, a notion that #1 fuels #2 and #3
For example, Blossom began his talk with a collection of oft-described ways in which technology has changed the way we communicate. From a video of Sadam Hussein‘s execution being captured on a and posted on YouTube to Google Maps mashups we were given the impression that it is technology that drives and determines human behavior. This is technological determinism — a limited worldview in which technology is disruptive and that ignores the fact that most technology is ignored, fails to be brought to market in the first place, or ceases to be perceived as technology after it has been widely adopted.
Following this introduction, Blossom produced an image of a collection of prehistoric stone spearheads and a pronouncement that new technology is followed by rapid changes in our DNA; that is, he made an argument that technological development spurs biological evolution.
Technology changes our DNA?
Now I’m getting perturbed.
What Blossom forgets is that most human evolution is cultural — not biological. Each one of us is adaptable, not because we can shuffle our genes at will, but because we are in possession of large brains that allow us to deal with changing environments and develop new strategies. Were we not adaptable, generations would go through their lives without the ability to type with their thumbs. We’d have to wait for several generations of strong selection before the chance of a random mutation that would endow a new generation to take advantage of mobile texting on a Blackberry and then wait several more generations until our offspring possessed thumbs which resisted tendon and joint damage through repetitive use.
But his talk went further, taking on a moral tone. We need to change. We need to adapt. Technology takes us to a place where we can reconsider our humanity — from the little girl who spends her days scavenging through a garbage dump looking for food and other cast-offs from a throw-away society, to the young boy who receives a new laptop from the One Laptop Per Child initiative, Blossom asks us to look deeply inside ourselves, to consult our sense of humanity as citizens of the world.
Social media brings us together in ways that we never hitherto imagined. More is better, and somehow, this is supposed to translate into making us more human.
If you failed to understand his argument the first time, don’t worry — Blossom is working on a sequel.