Social capital and Web2.0

by Lee Hopkins on May 20, 2006 · 19 comments

in miscellaneous

Mr and Mrs BetterComms enjoy partaking in the global social conversation

A

s a way of avoiding commencing another 4,000 word essay I’ve been skipping through a new book by Paul Ginsborg, The Politics of Everyday Life: Making Choices, Changing Lives.

Currently Professor of Contemporary European History at the University of Florence, Ginsborg comes to me with gilded academic qualifications – no fool, he.

Casting his well-read eye over current affairs, he notices with increasing alarm the gap between rich and poor (growing at an exponential rate), and the dual crises of global terrrorism and global warming. As he says,

But new elements are present in the preoccupations of today. Our world is menaced not just by nuclear destruction, but also by our constant misuse of it, and by our capacity to modify it beyond recognition or recall.

…These cumulative menaces to human existence have introduced a new relationship between fear and time. Much more so than forty years ago [here he refers to the Cold War], there is a feeling that time is running out. To the absence of time in our own lives is added the anguish of the possible absence of global time. The net result of these gathering concerns is the fostering in very many people of an uneasy combination of two sensations: those of urgency and powerlessness. We feel that something must be done before it is too late, but we have little idea of what we as individuals, or as families, or as groups of friends or as workmates can possibly do to stem the tide. We would like to connect our everyday lives and our individual actions to making the world a better place to live in – even a possible place to live in – but we do not know how (p. 7).

Ginsborg then goes into separate chapters, each looking at some of these elements and how we might, as global citizens, take back control of some aspects of our lives. He writes of families, of workplaces, and of wider social movements, one of which is the concept of ‘social capital’:

For Robert Putnam, who has done more to popularise it than any other scholar, social capital ‘refers to social networks, forms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trustworthiness.’ Social capital is to be distinguished from physical capital (factories, machinery and so on), financial capital (monetary assets) and human capital (the skills and education of individuals). It is rather the networks of relations between individuals on a micro, or everyday level. The social capital of the inhabitants of London’s Bethnal Green in the 1950s was constituted by their close-knit relations of kinship and neighbourhood, and by the frequency with which they greeted each other in the street and visited each other’s homes. As with the public sphere, so social capital, too, overlaps with civil society without being identical to it. Social capital, it could be said, constitutes the preliminary resources on which civil society can be, but may not necessarily be constructed (p. 136).

Therein lies the potential of the social web, the Web2.0 for which many of us labour long into the night.

Shel gets up at 5.30am twice a week to record a podcast with Neville, for whom it should be a time of relaxing with one’s close family and friends after dinner. I hit the ‘record’ button at midnight to chat with Allan Jenkins who should still be working on client material but takes time out to talk with me. Countless other Web2.0 communicators and converts, across all of life’s inter-related disciplines, do similar.

Why?

There is no monetary reward – indeed, there is only additional cost: of time, of money for hosting fees, of inputting text onto web pages and voices onto digital ‘tape’ and its concomittant post-production editing. The rewards are purely intrinsic and arguably selfish and self-centred. There is no doubt that ‘self-branding’ is a key contributor. There is also no doubt that, like many from time immemorial have found, nothing beats seeing your own name in print, even if it is your own printing house.

Perhaps we do it because we, as the petty little individuals as we are, want to strike a ‘blow’ for Communication’s freedom. We are no army, no formalised association of invective and protest. We are, perhaps, guilty of being nothing more than nobodies.

But whatever our personal reasons, we are vanguards in a movement towards a greater freedom for communication, and potentially a longer rope by which our Googled words can hang us.

I spend long, dollar-unproductive hours in conversation with Donna PepsiCola, Andrea Weckerle, Donna Tocci, Sallie Goetsch, Trevor Cook, Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson, Constantin Basturea, Robert French, Ross Monaghan, Bryan Person, Ben Hamilton, Kami Watson, Dan York, Kare Anderson, Henriette Weber Anderson and many, many more via posts on my blogs, comments on theirs or email.

Do we talk about business communication? Mostly, yes. But we also share jokes and share each other’s lives. I am closer to Allan Jenkins and Donna P than I am my next door neighbours. I am indebted to Shel and Neville for the encouragement and support they have both given me. I am flattered by an email I received today from Nathan Reeve in Victoria who, as a business communicator new to this Web2.0 world, is devouring episodes of FIR and other comms podcasts to ‘skill up’ and garner reassurance that his ‘fighting the good fight’ for greater corporate transparency and openness will not be in vain.

For me, the late nights and the many extra hours I put into Web2.0 are worth it, every last second. Because I have made new acquaintances and friends I would have been highly unlikely ever to have made without it; I have contributed to a global conversation that has the potential to reshape how the organisations that rule our lives rule over us; I have put my money where my mouth is and put words out into the digital realm where they can be found 20 years from now and potentially humiliate me with their foolish naivety.

In a city not noted for its activism, in a city not noted for its business entrepreneurialism, in a city where ‘communication’ is a technology not a practice, in a city where clients don’t want their PR/ad agencies to suggest anything risky or ‘unproven’, in a city where 1980
s haircuts and music are still dominant cultural forces, in a city where businesses will only (hesitantly) embrace new technologies and practices once the majority of their competitors do, in a city where those entrepreneurs who do have something innovative and world-class to say or show have to move overseas or interstate because a prophet is never welcome in their home town, in a city where the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome is a cultural ‘way of life’, I wish to reach out from behind my digital notebook and talk with and learn from those who have gone before me and who have much wisdom to impart.

And the only way I see that I can do that, because I am unwilling to move from this gorgeous geographic oasis with its envious laid-back lifestyle, beautiful scenery, zero traffic jams and the best wines in the world on my doorstep, is to use Web2.0 technologies to communicate with and to my peers.

And for which technology I am extremely grateful.

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  • http://gtpoet.blogmatrix.com/ Radiodogg

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I am very much interested in Web 2.0, the idea, the practice, the lifestyle. I have begun to see it (possibly along with Fremmasonry) as one of the few ways humans may have to deal with the issues you, and the author you highlight, have referred to. I am going thru a rough patch in my life right now, and having the Web and all its tools is invaluable to keeping myself sane. I will now bookmark your blog and try to keep up with it. Feel free to check out my podcast, and if you’re interested, maybe we could set up an interview for my show? I’d love to have a conversation with you sometime.

    Thanks again, and take care.

    Garland

    P.S. know anything about SecondLife?
    (www.secondlife.com)

  • http://gtpoet.blogmatrix.com Radiodogg

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I am very much interested in Web 2.0, the idea, the practice, the lifestyle. I have begun to see it (possibly along with Fremmasonry) as one of the few ways humans may have to deal with the issues you, and the author you highlight, have referred to. I am going thru a rough patch in my life right now, and having the Web and all its tools is invaluable to keeping myself sane. I will now bookmark your blog and try to keep up with it. Feel free to check out my podcast, and if you’re interested, maybe we could set up an interview for my show? I’d love to have a conversation with you sometime.

    Thanks again, and take care.

    Garland

    P.S. know anything about SecondLife?
    (www.secondlife.com)

  • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com/ Kami Huyse

    I also find my associations through social media (Web 2.0) very rewarding. Thanks so much for reminding me ;-) and for all the work you put in. It is appreciated by the rest of us.

  • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com/ Kami Huyse

    I also find my associations through social media (Web 2.0) very rewarding. Thanks so much for reminding me ;-) and for all the work you put in. It is appreciated by the rest of us.

  • http://www.thedailyupload.blogspot.com/ Dave Traynor

    Lee — You’ve hit on a lot of the reasons why the Web 2.0 promise is so alluring. I suspect that much of it is the pleasure of connecting with like-minded folks in far-flung locations. As someone who lives in one city, but has often worked in another and grew up in yet another, I find my on-line community is becoming more “real” to me than the folks who live nearby. That’s kind of sad, but exciting at the same time. In a couple of months, I’m moving from one side of Canada to the other. I’ll be relocating to Victoria (British Columbia – not the other one) at the end of the summer. While it will be difficult to leave a place I’ve been for nine years, I’m excited to be heading to a new home. And the great thing is that my on-line community will effortlessly accompany me. The Web makes us all neighbours, who can chat anytime. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Too bad you’re not going to be in Vancouver for the IABC conference. But we’ll raise a glass in your honour at the FIR dinner!

  • http://www.thedailyupload.blogspot.com Dave Traynor

    Lee — You’ve hit on a lot of the reasons why the Web 2.0 promise is so alluring. I suspect that much of it is the pleasure of connecting with like-minded folks in far-flung locations. As someone who lives in one city, but has often worked in another and grew up in yet another, I find my on-line community is becoming more “real” to me than the folks who live nearby. That’s kind of sad, but exciting at the same time. In a couple of months, I’m moving from one side of Canada to the other. I’ll be relocating to Victoria (British Columbia – not the other one) at the end of the summer. While it will be difficult to leave a place I’ve been for nine years, I’m excited to be heading to a new home. And the great thing is that my on-line community will effortlessly accompany me. The Web makes us all neighbours, who can chat anytime. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Too bad you’re not going to be in Vancouver for the IABC conference. But we’ll raise a glass in your honour at the FIR dinner!

  • http://www.sayitbetter.com/ Kare Anderson

    Lee
    Your remarks have been pebbles in the global pond that have rippled widely. Today I told Sue Pelletier (face2face blog for the meetings industry0 abut this thoughtful commentary. Five other membes of our nobodies club have given me candid, priceless insights – offline – for my upcoming presentations at conferences. As a tech-challendged former journalist I’ve encountered so many generous spirits, including you, who help me believe we can make a difference. More than at any earlier point in my life, I feel that, as an American,I must make time to support Americans who are taking stands for changes in my country, and to reach other to like-minded people everywhere.
    I love my tiny town of Sausalito… Many web 2.0 and other forward-thinking tech people (Federated Media, Grouper,com, etc.) are here but we still (per our earlier converations re Mississippi and Australia’s recent, brilliant branding) we have the most low-tech, halting attempts at simple branding our town. I’m going to Edmonton next month to help on their branding – and have told several leaeders there about your blog. Transparency can keep us humble,collaborative… and hopeful.

  • http://www.sayitbetter.com Kare Anderson

    Lee
    Your remarks have been pebbles in the global pond that have rippled widely. Today I told Sue Pelletier (face2face blog for the meetings industry0 abut this thoughtful commentary. Five other membes of our nobodies club have given me candid, priceless insights – offline – for my upcoming presentations at conferences. As a tech-challendged former journalist I’ve encountered so many generous spirits, including you, who help me believe we can make a difference. More than at any earlier point in my life, I feel that, as an American,I must make time to support Americans who are taking stands for changes in my country, and to reach other to like-minded people everywhere.
    I love my tiny town of Sausalito… Many web 2.0 and other forward-thinking tech people (Federated Media, Grouper,com, etc.) are here but we still (per our earlier converations re Mississippi and Australia’s recent, brilliant branding) we have the most low-tech, halting attempts at simple branding our town. I’m going to Edmonton next month to help on their branding – and have told several leaeders there about your blog. Transparency can keep us humble,collaborative… and hopeful.

  • http://leehopkins.net/ Lee

    Hi everyone!

    Thanks for the fantastic comments to this post — I am overwhelmed!

    To Radiodogg: sure, why not chat via skype? Just let me sort out my diary first… drop me an email: Lee at LeeHopkins dot com

    To Kami: glad to know that in some small way I’ve been able to input into your life — you sure input into mine with your blog!

    To Dave: thanks for the very flattering post on your blog about this, and glad to have you onboard as a regular reader! Thanks for raising that glass, mate, I truly wish I could be there!

    To Kare: Thank you (again!) for your kind comments and for keeping in touch. I’m not sure if I remember right, but I visited a friend in SF about 8 years ago and one day we took a drive over the bridge and into the wilderness. I think we *did* visit Sausalito but cannot be sure. But wherever we *did* visit was beautiful and exceptionally relaxing. I love the fact that you have to go to Edmonton to talk about branding because your own town doesn’t ‘get it’; remember that very few prophets are welcome in their home town :-).

  • http://leehopkins.net Lee

    Hi everyone!

    Thanks for the fantastic comments to this post — I am overwhelmed!

    To Radiodogg: sure, why not chat via skype? Just let me sort out my diary first… drop me an email: Lee at LeeHopkins dot com

    To Kami: glad to know that in some small way I’ve been able to input into your life — you sure input into mine with your blog!

    To Dave: thanks for the very flattering post on your blog about this, and glad to have you onboard as a regular reader! Thanks for raising that glass, mate, I truly wish I could be there!

    To Kare: Thank you (again!) for your kind comments and for keeping in touch. I’m not sure if I remember right, but I visited a friend in SF about 8 years ago and one day we took a drive over the bridge and into the wilderness. I think we *did* visit Sausalito but cannot be sure. But wherever we *did* visit was beautiful and exceptionally relaxing. I love the fact that you have to go to Edmonton to talk about branding because your own town doesn’t ‘get it’; remember that very few prophets are welcome in their home town :-).

  • http://www.bryper.com/ Bryan Person

    Thank you for the inspirational post, Lee. Your passions for online communications and social media continue to shine through.

    We are in the midst of a profound change in the ways that we communicate with each other, and also the ways in which businesses communicate with consumers. We’ll just have to continue to pound the pavement with companies to help them see the light. And, Lee, you will undoubtedly continue to lead that charge.

    And by the way, any advice on how to easily explain this mission we’re on — and why it’s important and soooo time-consuming — to my wife and daughter? Somehow that turns out to be an entirely different challenge altogether :)

  • http://www.bryper.com/ Bryan Person

    Thank you for the inspirational post, Lee. Your passions for online communications and social media continue to shine through.

    We are in the midst of a profound change in the ways that we communicate with each other, and also the ways in which businesses communicate with consumers. We’ll just have to continue to pound the pavement with companies to help them see the light. And, Lee, you will undoubtedly continue to lead that charge.

    And by the way, any advice on how to easily explain this mission we’re on — and why it’s important and soooo time-consuming — to my wife and daughter? Somehow that turns out to be an entirely different challenge altogether :)

  • http://tidbitsandmore.blogspot.com/ Donna Tocci

    Lee – this is a great post! Although, I’d expect nothing less from you.
    I recently did an internal presentation about blogging and all the new technological marketing tools out there now. One slide was simply, “Collaboration made easy, It’s a small world after all….”
    The talking points to that slide mention you as well as a few others around the world that I have collaborated with over the last year that, without Web 2.0, or whatever you’d like to call it, wouldn’t have happened. My life – personally and professionally – have been made much better because of this. After all, I’ve found a fellow House addict all the way in Australia – can’t beat that. ;)

  • http://tidbitsandmore.blogspot.com Donna Tocci

    Lee – this is a great post! Although, I’d expect nothing less from you.
    I recently did an internal presentation about blogging and all the new technological marketing tools out there now. One slide was simply, “Collaboration made easy, It’s a small world after all….”
    The talking points to that slide mention you as well as a few others around the world that I have collaborated with over the last year that, without Web 2.0, or whatever you’d like to call it, wouldn’t have happened. My life – personally and professionally – have been made much better because of this. After all, I’ve found a fellow House addict all the way in Australia – can’t beat that. ;)

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  • http://leehopkins.net/ Lee

    Hey Donna — anyone who loves ‘House’ as much as we do can’t be ALL bad, can they??? ;-)

  • http://leehopkins.net Lee

    Hey Donna — anyone who loves ‘House’ as much as we do can’t be ALL bad, can they??? ;-)

  • http://leehopkins.net/ Lee

    Ahhh, Bryan.

    Mate, that’s the $64,000 question — my wife STILL thinks I’m playing with my laptop… Some people are just destined NOT to get it until it hits them in the face that everyone else BUT them are ‘at it’. Keep up the good work, matey — your own blog is going great guns!

  • http://leehopkins.net Lee

    Ahhh, Bryan.

    Mate, that’s the $64,000 question — my wife STILL thinks I’m playing with my laptop… Some people are just destined NOT to get it until it hits them in the face that everyone else BUT them are ‘at it’. Keep up the good work, matey — your own blog is going great guns!

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