Pundits are touting social networking as the next big thing that will remake our world. That story line has become the conventional wisdom. I'm very skeptical.
We know that conventional wisdom is often wrong, and just because a lot of people say something is so doesn't make it so: the Earth is not flat; the Sun does not orbit the Earth. More recently, for example, "Second Life" was hyped as that next big virtual thing. I was assured that engineers would create their personal avatars, which would interact with other engineers and even visit vendors storefronts when "in world."
Couldn't they just go directly to a vendor's Web site?
I know it's easy to criticize and say, "No, that's not going to happen." (Statistically, I'd be right more often than not based solely on the law of large numbers.) I know that vendors and pundits are always looking to talk up the "next big thing" which they claim will drive the industry and perhaps their company.
Here's the reality: To make things happen, you need both talkers and doers. I am not demeaning the role of the talkers; the right spokesperson can make all the difference. Look at what Steve Jobs has done at Apple.
But we also know you need a lot of people working behind the scenes to make a vision a reality. Engineers are the ones busy doing that, and they lack the time or inclination to sit around all day and blog about what they are doing. They are simply too busy, and would rather be "doing." Call it "the existential pleasures of engineering" syndrome, to borrow the title of Samuel Florman's book.
The trendy crowd may think, "You're just an old-media guy jealous of the power of these new outlets." To the contrary, it's an issue of who creates and innovates, and how hard you work. This is not the same as having the luxury of sitting around all day commenting on the latest celebrity news (did she put really on all that weight?) or Twittering during a presidential address to Congress.
Don't these people have anything better to do? Or worse, is this the focus of the lives?
Maybe it's OK that some people want to spend their spare time blogging or commenting on the latest celebrity news, and it's probably no worse than other leisure activities (in moderation, of course). But do engineers have the time or desire to socialize with other engineers, unless they are looking for help with a specific design problem?
So I ask you, readers and fellow engineers: What do you think? Is so-called social media a big thing for you? Are you blogging and tweeting about what you are doing, and about what is going on around you? Or are you in too busy with projects, work, debugging and deadlines to bother?
Let me hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment directly at this posting--if you have the time!