Brief Conversations and Social Media

or, On Brevity

I want to register a hesitation I have about social media or certain kinds of social media. In one of the book promotion videos we watched for this class, Jose van Dijck shows some of Facebook’s promotional material, in which Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, says Facebook has allowed him to “engage in a large-scale conversation” with customers. In the discussion threads I expressed some skepticism about this. I wasn’t just skeptical about the idea that a corporation would engage in dialogue, however; I was also skeptical that Facebook could host a conversation, let alone a large-scale one. Indeed, I am skeptical that a large-scale conversation can exist.

I tend to think of conversations as an exchange of ideas; this might include mutual exploration of a topic, or persuasion attempts, or debate. No matter what, though, conversation (as I understand the term) involves getting someone else to understand how I am thinking about an issue. In order to do this, I need to “show my work,” in the terms of high school math class. The more information I give you about how I think—my values, my intellectual style, my assumptions—the more likely you are to understand why I think what I think. So this puts certain constraints on conversations: short conversations and conversations in which participants do not get to really know each other (in an intellectual way) are less likely to be successful.

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