The Social Media Paradox: Circling the wagons on a global scale?

Circle of chairs
My post about Niiu, a company creating custom, personalized newspapers generated some interesting discussion. One of my friends expressed his frustration over the world's need to personalize everything. His point was people can actually use personalization to dumb down news or limit how much of it they take in.

And that got me thinking: Is all this navel-gazing and me-firstness actually limiting our world view, despite being so social? Are we really expanding our frame of reference or perpetuating our own stereotypes by associating with people like us, however far across the globe, in the name of being social? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we're global citizens, when we're just circling our wagons in a larger circle than before?

Are we being too self-serving by personalizing sites and content? Are we creating filters or barriers? Resisting the unknown? Is it possible that we may actually cut ourselves off from the larger world, the other point of view, opposition... you know, the things that help us grow and figure out who we are?

The single most attractive thing about Web 2.0 and the personal web is also potentially its biggest risk: we can actually cut ourselves off by controlling how much -- or how little -- of the world we take in.

Traditional media like newspapers and pre-PVR television were full of content and ads we couldn't avoid. That meant exposure to things we liked, things we hated, things that surprised us, things we'd never seen before. And that gave us an opportunity to learn and react to new or different ideas.

I love love love social media. But I'm all too aware that it's easy to fall into a groove when I'm busy and only consult my personalized sites. All this thinking is encouraging me to check out new sources, follow new tweeps and look for other points of view.

After all, if the point of all this is to be social, we must remember that “Opposition is true friendship” as said by William Blake.

UPDATE: There's a really interesting blog post by Umair Haque over at Harvard business Review, expanding on this idea. Not only are his thoughts interesting, but I would encourage you to browse through the comments section. The question of the social media paradox really seems to bring out some strong opinions from both sides. Which is great. The more we talk, the faster we can find a solution.

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