Organizing in the Age of Social Media
Social media brings us tons of great information, connects us to many new people, and can be a great way to unwind.
There’s a dark side: along the way social media, especially Facebook, has fractured our time and our focus.
There was a time when all it took to hold an event was to come up with a pretty good idea and apply a little elbow grease. Maybe you wanted to have a social event with music, or an immersive language workshop. Maybe you wanted to hold a protest, create a new cultural organization, gather people to lobby the state government, or hold a fundraiser for a local cause. If you were willing to make a few calls, post a few flyers—it would happen.
I did all of those things back in the 1990s and early 2000s. People were eager to help, and attendance wasn’t generally an issue. Even the most wild, obscure kinds of things were possible then, because people had free time and wanted to be part of something cool.
Today it feels like a different world. Thanks to Meetup.com, Facebook events, and other random posts from friends, we are inundated with ways to pass our time. Want to learn how to build a robot, or watch an esoteric play? There’s an event for that. Each weekend is filled with party invites, wine tastings, and opportunities to see friends perform.
Meanwhile, our ‘free time’ isn’t free any more. People struggle to give away time as a volunteer to help organize events or promote a cause. Instead, we need to focus our time on making money, on taking the kids to ever-increasing numbers of structured activities, on meeting our inescapable social obligations—or we veg out in front of the computer or Netflix for hours on end to “destress” from the busy lives we lead.
For freelancers (and I include myself), the internet often makes our careers possible. Social media like LinkedIn and Facebook help us identify new clients and connections, while email and chat apps help accelerate and document communication. At the same time, these same venues also suck away hours on end as we foster our professional connections (and get sidetracked by cat videos). As a result, the concept of ‘free time’ becomes a fantasy. Once we put a price tag on our time (what’s your hourly rate?), it’s very difficult to commit to anything that doesn’t pay.
It all boils down to one thing: the internet makes some parts of our lives better, but in turn, it creates new challenges for those who want to hold events or manage organizations. It’s increasingly difficult to compete for volunteer time, and almost impossible to find anyone with marketing or communications skills to volunteer to work on outreach, websites or other tasks that should never be done for free.
Worse than that, it’s an ongoing struggle to convince potential attendees to give up their hour/day/week to go to your event rather than something else. After all, how many of us click “interested” on Facebook events knowing we’re not likely to actually show up?
In the end, it feels like social media has turned each of us into an octopus, as our social life, our personal obligations, and our careers pull us in different directions.
And on the forehead of the octopus is a big blue and white lowercase f.