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EDITORIAL COMMENTS: The revolution will be digitized

July 8, 2010
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Rather it is being digitized here and now.

I have been slow to catch on. Six months ago I didn’t know a tweet from a twit. Then I learned a bit about Twitter and thought tweeters are twits. Now I tweet every day. To go from writing 1200-word editorials to 140-character tweets has been a paradigm change. That’s OK, we’re all in for a paradigm change.

For a long time I thought Facebook was a teenage wasteland. Now I send Facebook news updates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I believed LinkedIn was for self-promoters. Of course it is. So what? Now I’m caught up in the numbers game — how many contacts can I add to my network?

It’s a brave new world, these social “nets.” Especially if you’re over 45 years old. According to “Twitter Usage in America: 2010,” the Edison Research/Arbitron Internet and Multimedia Study, 35 percent of 45-54-year-olds currently have a personal profile page on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or any other social networking website. That compares to 77 percent of 18-24-year-olds, 65 percent of those between 25-34 years old, and 51 percent of the 35-44 crowd.

For safety and health professionals, so many of you are baby boomers in the 45+ demographic, to use social nets is to venture where few of your peers have gone before. Most safety and health pros, cautious and conservative by nature (hallmarks of being safety conscious, after all), have not exactly jumped at the chance to “join the conversation,” as social nets love to advertise.

Free to choose

On our website is an open invitation to “join the conversation” and provide feedback, comments, opinions to my blogging and the news of the day. Consider this response:

“Oh gawd Dave... you’ve imbibed the millennial Kool-Aid. I have been fighting the rope pulling me into Facebook and so far have maintained my freedom. Social networking can be a ‘cancer’ in that it spreads rapidly and there is no real cure other than amputating the PC/laptop from the clutches of the fingertips.

“Don’t let the new age rule your life. As Chloe said in the final seconds of “24,” ‘SHUT IT DOWN.’

“Smell the coffee, hug the kids and wife and go walk the dog and breathe the polluted Philly air. THAT is what really matters.”

Now that is excellent blog material. Too bad he’s “fighting the rope.”

I also received this response:

“I keep getting requests to join associates’ groups etc., have done that, but have found few who actually utilize the network to any extent. Most say something like, ‘everyone else is in so I got in!’ I too must get better acquainted with the tools available. Thanks for giving us all (or at least those who are uninitiated to date) a little push.”

Consider this column a nudge.

“Inherit the future”

At least keep an open mind. Philosopher and onetime longshoreman Eric Hoffer: “In times of great change, it is the learners who inherit the future.”

And to quote another philosopher, Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Newspapers across the nation are folding faster than beach umbrellas before a storm. Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Rolling Stone are embarrassingly lightweight. Evening newscasts are hanging on to the AARP crowd. Every other commercial is for a prescription med.

Dylan again: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

Mr. Jones, with “his pencil in his hand” is a reporter. How prophetic. Many so-called “Mainstream Media” journalists stubbornly scorn social nets. The Babel of bloggers and blowhards.

Yet… in 2009, social net usage spiked to 57.6 percent of the total U.S. Internet population to 127 million users, according to projections from eMarketer. By 2014, social nets will reel in 65.6 percent of all Internet users, 164 million people.

Something is happening when Deepwater Horizon Response has 28,323 fans on Facebook. The official site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command has embraced social nets like a teenager, not a bunch of bureaucrats: Breaking news is sent via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Technorati, StumbleUpon, email and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.

“There’s something happening here…”

Something is happening when, just on LinkedIn alone:
  • The American Industrial Hygiene Association networking group has 1,491 members;
  • EHSQ Elite has 12,108 members;
  • The American Society of Safety Engineers has 3,787 members;
  • The Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics has 2,640 members;
  • The Environment Health & Safety Professionals group has 9,127 members;
  • The Safety Training group has 1,016 members;
  • The Green group has 84,090 members.
Something is happening when the Green group discussion on “Is global warming finally being exposed for what it is?” elicits 3,949 comments.

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of discussion group members consist of a vast tribe called the “lurkers.” Lurkers passively follow and read the updates of others without contributing updates or comments of their own. This is no different than the audience at any professional conference. In a room of say, 500 people, how many walk to a mic stand to ask a question or offer a comment during the Q&A? We are a silent majority of lurkers. The social nets merely reflect human nature.

Come out of your silo

Maybe you have nothing to contribute to the conversation. But don’t miss out on the conversations occuring on the social nets. It is here that you learn what’s on the minds of your peers. What the issues of the day are. You’ll relate to some of the gripes and complaints. You’ll find some comments self-absorbed, specious, ridiculous.

That’s no excuse for dismissing the revolution in communication. This isn’t a fad. There’s no turning back. According to the Arbitron study: Eighty-four percent of the U.S. populations has Internet access. Six in seven homes with Internet access have broadband connections. Dial-up is so 20th century. More than six in ten homes with Internet access have a wireless (Wi-Fi) network set up. In 2008, 24 percent of the populations had a personal profile page on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, et al. In 2010, 48 percent have some type of profile page.

There’s a novelty effect here, no doubt. But folks by the millions are not going to wake up one morning bored with social nets, re-up their newspaper and magazine subscriptions and throw a life preserver to Katie Couric. It’s about the day-to-day pace. The times they are a-movin’ fast. We want to know what’s going on, right now, on demand, not tomorrow morning or next week.

So as you check in with ISHN’s daily Twitter updates, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, and daily e-news posts and blog accounts on our website, look at it this way: We’re not trying to ‘rope you in;’ we’re reflecting the revolution. And overturning paradigms is not for lurkers. Engage. Write a comment. Far too many blog posts show goose eggs in the comment column. The story is not just the facts of who, what, where, when and why. It includes how people react to the news. How they form communities. Hello Tea Party. Combustible Dust Policy Institute Group. Travel Media Pros. Writing Mafia. Find your niche. Be part of the story. Who wants to be Mr. Jones?

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