Tell Everyone: Made to be Social

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Photo of Alfred Hermida by Rachel Nixon

Where do you go to keep in step with the world? The newspaper? TV? Social media? Alfred Hermida would be willing to bet that it’s the latter. And if it isn’t today, then it certainly will be tomorrow.

Hermida (@Hermida) is an experienced journalist, scholar of new media, and professor of journalism at UBC. In his new book Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters, Hermida gives a thorough account of how the information intake of the world has been changed by social media and its emphasis on sharing. His purpose is to show that the reason we are constantly plugged in is because humans are social creatures and we’re “[…] not hooked on YouTube, Twitter or Facebook but on each other” (1).

Tell Everyone covers a sweeping overview of almost every single significant social media event since the popularization of Facebook and Twitter. Anything from revolution to brand meltdowns to idiot user failures is covered and unpacked specifically from the human perspective. Context is given through short historical accounts of the evolution of human communication during other significant periods. However, Tell Everyone mainly focuses on the ever changing here and now.

By grounding the thesis in from the human perspective the book really attempts to give social media a positive spin. Hermida does a good job of presenting the happy side of social media and the effect it has on the world, while still acknowledging the drawbacks, imperfections, and misunderstandings of what has become a cultural norm. He views it more as a useful tool with great potential, rather than as an intrusion.

Now, if you crack open this book and read a few pages, it might seem like it is written for an audience with little familiarity in social media. Since most people are constantly hooked up to multiple platforms of communication, a lot of this information might seem like academic old hat. No question, that Hermida’s position could be countered point-to-point with other arguments. Conversations about new media are never cut and dry. That said, Hermida can be lauded for tackling a subject that might just completely turn on its head in a few years. The nature of the beast is that it is rapidly changing, faster than can be anticipated or even understood. What the book does capture though, is that right now, this time we’re in is vitally important to how the future will be shaped.

Particularly interesting in this regard is how Hermida sees the world of news and journalism now with the acceleration of instantaneous sharing. News will truly never be the same. Ever. All of those concepts traditionally taught in Communications 101 are being turned on their head and that is happening right now. Hermida shows that news, traditionally protected by editors and journalists, can now be taken into the hands of ordinary citizens like never before. In fact, many of the world’s latest events were fuelled by media literate citizens.  Arab Spring anyone?

Tell Everyone is an excellent read for anyone trying to make sense of the morphed landscape of technological advancement that we are all living in. Social media doesn’t have to be an isolated scene where users are bombarded by advertisements. It can, and is, a powerful social tool that can incite change. In Alfred Hermida’s words: “Today’s constant flow of information is ours to use.” (217)