Monday, July 4, 2011
Social Media History: From Prehistoric Paint to Postmodern Posts
Posted July 2, 2011 with 1690 reads
The desire to connect and communicate is woven into our very genetic code as human beings. We don’t want to be heard. We need to be heard. That is what is powering this supernova explosion of social media.
“User-generated content” has been around for millennia. The first evidence of “social media” was the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave paintings in the Ardeche department of southern France. They date back to 30,000 BC. We’re talking Upper Paleolithic era here. Those paintings were peopleconnecting and communicating with other people. Twitter on a sandy wall.
That’s all social media is. The medium has merely changed: from prehistoric paint to postmodern posts.
The difference is the speed and scope of the communication. Cave paintings reached some. Social media reaches all.
Humans have waited a long time for this. For thousands of years, the church controlled the message, followed by the printing press, then the mainstream media.
For the first time in human history: you control the message. Reflect on that for a moment. Think about how outrageously fortunate we are to be alive, empowered by these tools—at this time.
Social media is here to stay because people will never up that power. It’s no less than the taste of freedom. We’ve seen governments try to quell this people-powered movement by shutting down social media entirely. It’s not working.
Ladies and gentlemen, the genie is out of the bottle, and it is not going back in.
That’s where we are. But, how did we get here?
"The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power." -Wael Ghonim, widely-credited as a catalyst of the 2011 Egypt Revolution.
The regime was trying to hold back a tsunami with their bare hands.
Egypt is an ancient civilization with a young population. Nearly two-thirds of Egyptians are under 30 years old. After years of oppression, they reached their tipping point.
As the sun rose to warm the day in Cairo on January 25, 2011, an estimated 25,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square. This would become the time and place of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution—one of the most extraordinary in history.
Within five days, the BBC reported that 25,000 became 50,000. By February 1st, the number of protesters had swelled to over one million—peacefully, yet stoically, protesting the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.
In the nascent stages, Mubarak didn’t appear overly-concerned. After all, he’d been in power for nearly 30 years.
His unconcern would be his undoing.
What his government—and most of the world, for that matter—didn’t quite grasp was this: While the people had been oppressed for three decades, held hostage by a psychological barrier of fear, the playing field had changed. Monumentally. The power balance had shifted. Dramatically.
Mubarak’s regime didn’t understand two key points about social media: 1. That in connecting people, it could break down the barrier of fear, and 2. That it could move messages and mobilize masses with blinding speed.
Cell phones and email might reach hundreds of people at a time. Twitter and Facebook reach hundreds of thousands. In hours. Those hundreds of thousands can reach millions. In days.
The Egyptian government made the grave miscalculation that they could quell this movement just as they had done before. But this time, nothing could contain the Egyptian people. They had the burning desire for change—and the tools to raise the heat.
As 60 Minutes later reported: “Their revolution began not with terrorism and tanks but with Twitter and texts. An aging autocrat who ruled as a modern pharaoh, fell victim to those weapons of the young. Out-organized and out-maneuvered. By kids. With keyboards.”
A thirty-something Google executive, Wael Ghonim, was an unlikely catalyst of the revolution. In June, 2010, police brutally and callously murdered a young Egyptian named Khaled Said—who had uploaded a damning video to YouTube showing blatant police corruption. Decades of such transgressions built an aura of invincibility in the Egyptian police. Once again, they thought they would get away with it. They thought wrong.
Ghonim built a Facebook page titled: "We Are All Khaled Said." It featured graphic, striking photos of Said’s death. The Facebook page attracted roughly 500,000 members. It struck a cord. But, more than that, it provided one universal place for outraged Egyptians to go—to hear and be heard. It gave people a voice. It started to chip away at the psychological barrier of fear that had held them back for so many years.
On February 11, 2011,Mubarak officially stepped down. Imagine that! The man who had clung to power for almost three decades, through scandalous elections, corruption charges—and six attempts on his life—could not withstand the social-driven groundswell that flat-out overwhelmed him. In 18 days.
Here’s the part of the story where “hype” often creeps in about social media. It’s important to understand it’s actual role here—in order to understand how it can actually impact our lives and our businesses.
While social media did not create the conditions for a revolution, it accelerated it, both in time and timing. The wood, the fuel and the fire were there. Social media sheltered the fire—and fanned the flames for the world to see.
As E.B. Boyd of Fast Company wrote: “Did Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube send people out into the streets? Of course not. Did they speed up the process of protest? Absolutely.”
This speaks to a timeless truth of social media: It’s powerful. But, without people and passion, it’s powerless. Therein lies a fundamental misconception about social media: companies see the bedazzling numbers and believe social media is a silver bullet that can make them rich, famous or both. But, without a buzzworthy product or service, without a message that resonates, without passion, without work, social media falls flat. It merely amplifies your message, your business, your movement or your cause. It doesn’t save them.
Social media has become an engine of humanity, jet-fueled by the irrepressible drive we each have for better lives. With social media, a privileged few don’t control the levers. You do. I do. We all do. That’s what makes it so thrilling. But to work: it requires a certain set of ingredients, mixed in just right. When that happens, sit back and watch the magic.
Social media makes good on that long-held promise that one person can change the world. Wael Ghonim is case in point.
Boyd further wrote:
There’s been some backlash in the last few days against the idea that either Tunisia or Egypt were brought on by Twitter or a “Facebook Revolution.” And certainly, it takes a lot more than the 21st century version of a communication system to persuade people to take to the streets and risk harm, imprisonment, or death. But that doesn’t mean social media didn’t play a role. It did. Given the magnitude of grievances in each country, revolt would almost certainly have come eventually. But social media simply made it come faster. It did so by playing a role in three main dynamics: organizing protests, shaping the narrative and putting pressure on Washington.
As I see it, this is the most powerful progression of social media: if it can embolden enough people, it can trigger a groundswell. If that groundswell has legs, it can achieve extraordinary results. This applies to you and your business just as it does to causes and world events.
Let’s talk about business for a moment. What an historic, enthralling time to be in business! We are in the midst of one of the most seismic shifts since the Industrial Revolution. Ten years ago, if I told you that technologies would one day exist to allow you to listen to past, current and future customers; to reach millions of people with your content (without “gatekeepers” like agents, or publishers or producers); to foster lasting relationships with influential customers; to build a thriving business using a video platform that distributed your content to every corner of the planet, with enterprise-level analytics, that would cost you nothing but your time, you would have thought I was an inveterate liar, a quixotic dreamer—or both.
You are empowered with an array of jaw-dropping technologies that enable you to be heard on an unprecedented scale. You can use this power do anything you want: from connecting with people around the world to raising awareness for a charity to parlaying your passion into a viable business. The playing field is more level than ever: most of us now have access to the very platforms that powered Barack Obama to the White House in 2008. Imagine that.
And, if you’re reading this 10 years from now, your power has likely grown by orders-of-magnitude. I cannot fathom how you people are using social media to enrich your life, boost your business, and change our world!
Social media is the now the #1 online activity with almost one billion people taking part. And, those numbers continue to grow at a jaw-dropping rate. In a span of three years, social media has brought together one in six humans on Earth. That figure includes the roughly one billion people who don’t even have Internet connection yet.
To reach 50 million users, it took:
· Radio: 38 years.
· TV: 13 years.
· Internet: 4 years.
· The iPod: 3 years
To reach 100 million users, it took Facebook fewer than 9 months.