This is the title of a recent TIME magazine article (April issue) written by economist Zachary Karabell. The big question Karabell seeks to address is: who benefits economically from social media like Twitter and Facebook? Ordinary consumers like me and you? Or merely the established business interests, corporations, institutional investors, etc?
Here’s a quote taken from the final paragraph of his sober reflection:
Like so many things these days, social media contribute to economic bifurcation. Dynamic companies are benefiting from these tools, even if the gains are tough to nail down in specific figures. Many individuals are benefiting too, using LinkedIn to find jobs and Groupon to find deals. But for now, the irony is that social media widen the social divide, making it even harder for the have-nots to navigate. They allow those with jobs to do them more effectively and companies that are profiting to profit more. But so far, they have done little to aid those who are being left behind. They are, in short, business as usual.
Of course, the concept of the digital divide is not new (it’s about 16 years old) - but it is indeed ironic that the so-called digital age of the digital economy is making digital citizens no better off (perhaps even worse off) than they were before. Only eBay, I would argue (and have argued), can make any economic difference at all to ordinary people – and even eBay demands certain banking and knowledge-capital prerequisites before it can be of any use.
Nicholas Negroponte’s celebratory digital manifesto, Being Digital (1995), hailed as prophetic once upon a time, looks awfully out of date now. I much prefer the sentiment behind a more recent book title – Mike Klein’s From Lincoln to LinkedIn: The 55-minute Guide to Social Communication, Or Why Social Media has [tweet] All to Do With New Technology and Everything to Do With Timeless Principles of Word of Mouth. Interpersonal Communication, eat your heart out!
Alongside Karabell and Klein, my recent article for Three-D is another sober reflection on social/digital media power, though from an education rather than business perspective. It really is time for a return to basics; a return to things that matter in (media, cultural, communication, social) education; a return to Media Studies 1.0.