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Scott Berkun’s rant, Calling Bullshit on Social Media, and Joshua Michele Ross counter argument in an Orielly Radar post, got me thinking about how much the idea of “social media” is a semantical problem. Scott Berkun wrote:

For starters: social media is a stupid term. Is there any anti-social media out there? Of course not. All media, by definition, is social in some way.

Ross answered back:

Railing against the popular lexicon is always a losing bet. Language is formed by collective agreement and it sticks because it resonates and serves a purpose.

Let’s take these two words for a moment and define them separately.

Media – noun 

plural form of medium (usu. the media) [treated as sing. or pl. the main means of mass communication (esp. television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) regarded collectively [as adj. the campaign won media attention.

USAGE The word media comes from the Latin plural of medium. The traditional view is that it should therefore be treated as a plural noun in all its senses in English and be used with a plural rather than a singular verb: the media have not followed the reports (rather than has not followed). In practice, in the sense ‘television, radio, the press, and the Internet, collectively,’ media behaves as a collective noun (like staff orclergy, for example), which means that it is now acceptable in standard English for it to take either a singular or a plural verb.

Social – adjective[ attrib. of or relating to society or its organization alcoholism is recognized as a major social problem traditional Japanese social structure.• of or relating to rank and status in society a recent analysis of social class in Britain her mother is a lady of the highest social standing.• needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities we are social beings as well as individuals.• relating to or designed for activities in which people meet each other for pleasure Guy led a full social life.Zoology (of a bird) gregarious; breeding or nesting in colonies.• (of an insect) living together in organized communities, typically with different castes, as ants, bees, wasps, and termites do.• (of a mammal) living together in groups, typically in a hierarchicalsystem with complex communication.

O.K. Hope you keep those definitions fresh in your mind and that the next paragraphs make sense. Here we go.

While I agree with the statement that “railing against the popular lexicon is a loosing bet”, I don’t think this compounded word and term isn’t that collectively agreed upon. If it were, these discussions wouldn’t happen as much. Even terms like “blogging” and Web 2.0 have more collectively agreed upon definitions than the terms “social media”. 

The problem is that this is truly a buzzed out term in the worst sense because it’s not pointing out to anything new. Web 2.0 is a cheesy term, but it pointed out to something that was truly new, which was the shift in letting users customize and participate with their web consumption as much as possible. In contrast, social media is a vague term that falls apart because according to it’s definition, then everything on the internet is social media.

We know of course that it’s really to highlight the use of more social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, etc., as tools to broadcast content and, ironically, less to truly socialize and network. That’s what I think is truly meant by social media and that’s my beef with it

The social, in social media, is meant as a noun, highlighting what is ridiculously obvious and self evident about broadcasting content on the internet. Scott Berkun says that all media is social, in some ways. But I’ll go as far as saying that all media is social, in every way… as a noun. Newspapers, Television, Radio, the Internet, etc., they are forms a communication, you know, between humans, and usually more than two. And yes, online you can talk back, collaborate, and have much more options to the way you can interact with information, but that’s just a technological advantage and it doesn’t mean that old media is anti-social.

But social is mostly meant as an adjective, as in socializing, smooching, and chit chatting. Social networking services are just that: digital locations for mammals to congregate and communicate. Using Facebook as a means to broadcast content is an option, but that isn’t it’s true purpose. Even if you decide to use social networking sites to broadcast content instead of say, having a physical newspaper column, that doesn’t make you a more gregarious human being. Sharing vs publishing may have different agenda$, but it has the same end purpose, which is to communicate something to people. This mixture of purposes is its key problem: an unrealistic expectation to be social without being trivial, banal, or noisy.

The point: You are either friendly or resourceful. You either share or publish. You either have an audience or friends. But you can’t have both at the same time.