“Critique of…social media?” What Kant might have said…

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Photo credit: David Yu

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing entirely straight can be built.”

- Immanuel Kant

Talk about random inspiration for a blog post. I spotted this quote the other day at the Bryant Park subway station here in New York and it got me thinking about social media. Kant would either spin in his grave over a profound insight turned so relatively mundane, or being the free thinker he was maybe he’d grant poetic license. But I digress.

What hit me is that social media is in some weird way becoming the manifestation of human thinking online, there for the entire world to see, consume, dissect, react, participate, etc. (Cringing even as I write that but bear with me while I attempt to do the guy justice.) This obviously lies in stark contrast to media as we knew it not even a few years ago. Add the real-time element of platforms like Twitter and it’s like watching the pulse of, well, us…unfolding across not only microblogs but blogs, forums, social networks and some chaotic combination thereof as information is pushed and pulled across a variety of channels and around the world. Case in point: Jeremiah Owyang’s observation on the recent earthquake in San Jose and the ensuing reaction flying around Twitter and the Web at frightening speed.

Running to catch the F train that morning, I was also thinking about the increasingly crowded social media monitoring and measurement space and all the new tools popping up every other day. I’d recently talked to a client who was weighing the benefits of automated analysis versus human analysis, particularly in the context of gaining insights that can be turned into actionable ideas. It reminded me of the nearly relentless pursuit of refining social media into an automated science, driven by a mix of SEO, influencer metrics, workflow, CRM and so forth.

Advancement in all these areas is unarguably important, but as Kant might remind us (again, bear with me), we’re still dealing with people after all. And so long as people remain the quirky, opinionated, sarcastic, and fickle animals we are, social media will never be a science.  There will always* be a role for people to interpret, analyze and make judgment calls. I wouldn’t call that art, but the process, sort of like this post, isn’t entirely straight.

Joseph Kingsbury

*If some MIT kid invents a black box technology tomorrow that renders this entire point moot, please disregard this post.