Socialnomics by Erik Qualman: Worth the Read

Photo credit: Creative commons
Photo credit: Creative commons

The rapid rise of social media and its incredible impact on American culture is a topic that has become more prominent in recent years. Our generation has been fully submerged in the digital age for a while and we have grown accustomed to social media because we are the ones that have grown up during its rise to power. We have been around to witness its rapid takeover of the journalism industry. Erik Qualman’s book Socialnomics talks about this societal shift around social media and its influence on human interaction, the way we receive news, and how businesses operate. It is unparalleled to many other phenomena because not only has social media begun to change how people interact with one another, it changes how corporations can run a successful business.

According to his LinkedIn Profile, author Erik Qualman is, “a frequently requested international keynote speaker (42 countries), he has been featured on almost ever media outlet including 60 Minutes, The Wall Street Journal, and ABC News.”Additionally, Socialnomics was a finalist for the “Book of the Year” in 2010. Qualman is a reputable resource on the topic of social media because of his educational experience and time spent studying the various elements of the communication world. One of the most important take-away points I got from his work was this idea that social media has changed the way we think about news and about storytelling in general. “We no longer search for the news, it finds us” (9).

I very much agree with this assertion seeing the trends in the past few years that point to this idea that journalism is becoming even more fast-paced than ever before. Nowadays it seems like news breaks first on twitter, and if you are not on it then you are missing out on being the first to hear about a story. Although this book now seems a little outdated because it was published in 2009, Qualman did an excellent job of predicting the trends of social media even before such tools became more prominent. I also tend to agree with his assertion that we crave social connection and that this has translated to social media because we would like to want to know what others are doing all the time. One of his main points throughout the book was how social media doesn’t just represent a small shift in the way society works, it illustrates major behavioral changes within society and how we interact in the social world, “the world as it was, no longer is” (14).

He illustrates this point though citing various case studies throughout the novel that illustrate this trend towards sharing information though social media and how it went viral. The case of ‘dancing Matt’ is one of the typical things you can point to that shows the immense impact that tools like YouTube have on the way we collect and share information. This man started out filming his signature dance in different places around the world. When the video went viral, Stride gum caught wind of it and offered to pay for his travels if they could put some product endorsement in his videos. Qualman uses this point to illustrate the incredible benefits of associating a business with social media phenomena and how this is going to be the way of the future.

Another interesting claim that Qualman makes is that social media has become about creating an online persona and branding yourself. He asserts that websites like Facebook are all about promoting one’s own image and are a way of creating a way that you would like others to see you. “As a society it’s a good thing. It allows people to take stock of their collective lives and what they’re doing throughout the day, rather than letting year go by and looking back on their wasted youth, saying, ‘what did I do with my life?’” Although he makes a strong case for this argument throughout the book, I tend to disagree with this assertion. Although I do think that social media has provided new ways for us to connect and has made room for us to be able to share moments with people, I don’t think it’s the best thing to happen to society.

Although Qualman spends a good portion of the book pointing out the positive changes that can come from social media, he also explains that it can have the opposite effect as well. This can be exemplified in chapter three where there is a section heading that states, “The next generation can’t speak.” Qualman illustrates how even though social media has made some parts of our communication more progressive and open, “The desire and ability to meet new people has rapidly eroded so much that humans fear public speaking more than death” (53). Although fear of public speaking is not a new thing to society, I think that this book illustrates how our continuous tendency towards interactions over the internet and not face to face has caused a serious shift in how we interact with one another. It has begun to change in the way people exchange information. Qualman predicts that Facebook will become the new phone number (and for 2009 this was definitely an accurate prediction).

It has also changed the way we interact which can even be exemplified in the dating world. “…our first date is more like our fourth date, you aren’t asking questions like ‘where did you go to college?’ or ‘what are your hobbies?’ It’s somewhat sad, but true’” (49). I think this point adequately illustrates my own hesitancy to agree with Qualman’s assertions that social media improves all aspects of the social world. I think it tends to make people more introverted and shy away from real social interaction. In a new study I found on ABC news, there is a direct link between depression and high Facebook use. “After controlling for race, gender, religious beliefs and whether the volunteers were unattached or in a relationship, the researchers saw a pattern: The more time students spent on Facebook, the more they thought others had it better than they did” (Rosenbaum, Potter). Since Socialnomics was written in 2009 I don’t expect that Qualman could have made an adequate prediction of this trend. However there are a lot of signs that point to the dangers of too much social media use for the younger generation. With the tendency to shy away from real social interaction and hide behind a computer screen, it’s no wonder that people start to compare their own lives with the highlight reels of everyone else’s lives.

Another main point in the book is the examples he uses to illustrate how he believes that social media has allowed people to live more productive lives and that the positive aspects of social media outweigh the negative. He exemplifies this by showing the benefits of using social media tools to promote/run a business. The case study he points to that shows how social media can often be a more cost-effective way than traditional advertising is about the Army’s use of social media during the Iraq war. They created a device called “Straight from Iraq” where people could have direct communication with soldiers and come to better understand what it is like to be in the army and so people back home could hear real stories (86). Qualman uses this example to show how, “these types of open social media conversations are much more effective than a unilateral conversation to your audience” (87).

Even though I had a tendency to disagree with some of Qualman’s arguments for how social media is improving aspects of everyday life, he does make an incredibly compelling argument. Socialnomics allowed me to think more critically about the way I use social media and it gives a very interesting approach to illustrate the takeover of social media in recent years. He argues that in this societal shift we are moving towards an era where short status updates and sharing our lives online is becoming the norm. All of the case studies he uses provide strong evidence for his argument that whether we like it or not, our world is changing. “Even if you believe that life with social media is worse, you cannot argue that social media has forever changed the way in which we live” (120).

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