Although I’ve already written a short blog post on the last week’s Social Media 09 for Digital Public, I wanted to kick off my Urban Mashup blog by reflecting on the day from a different and more personal perspective.
The event itself was organised by Mashup* and featured a whole host of social media aficionados, digital guru’s, and online monitoring experts. The headline speakers were advertising luminary and Engine President, Robin Wight, and TV presenter Sarah Beeny, who generated a wave of positive Tweets from delegates when she picked up her newborn baby to sooth him during her presentation.
The event felt like a human Twitterfall, with speakers given strict 10 minute slots, and trooped on and off in quick succession. Although this didn’t leave much time for reflection, a couple of impressions were left with me that don’t appear to have been addressed by other people’s write-ups of the day.
The first came during the talk from a pumped up Dan Klein who set out to convince us that nobody crunched more social media data than his firm Detica.
During his talk entitled ‘Social Network Analysis on Steroids’ he recounted how they had processed the data on every single transaction made on Ebay since 2001, and then went “looking for criminals”. In this case, people buying Ammonium Nitrate. According to Klein, having found the top 50 traders, they reported the potential bomb makers to the US government. Although he kept emphasizing the legality of what they had done, I know I wasn’t the only one left feeling slightly uneasy by the civil liberty implications of all this.
However, it was Klein’s next case study that really grabbed my attention. He explained that Detica had also processed the details of every transaction made in Apple’s iTunes, and commented that this had revealed some interesting facts. For example, according to him: “people don’t pay for Hip-Hop in iTunes, and we know who they are”.
I found this remark extraordinary on two counts:
- Firstly, I was curious to know how artists like 50 Cent, Eminem and Jay-Z had managed to amass multi-million dollar fortunes if people aren’t paying for their music.
- Secondly, I wondered who was the “they” he was referring to? I caught the eye of one of the handful of black guys in the audience. We both shrugged and gave each other a look, as if to ask: “is he talking to me?”
At this point, a scene from the 1989 Spike Lee film ‘Do the Right Thing’ flashed into my mind. It’s the one in which the character named Buggin’ Out begins to question why there “ain’t no brotha’s on the wall” in the pizzeria owned by the Italian-American, Sal. The point he makes is that since Sal’s pizzeria is situated in a black neighborhood and sells pizza to black people, Sal’s ‘Wall of Fame’ should include some pictures of black celebrities.
I began to wonder about the Social Media 09 parallels, because for all the diversity on display in terms of age, gender, and professional experience, a common theme seemed to emerge as speaker after speaker took to the stage.
The clues could be found in the cultural references involving the pronunciation of fine wine, to the names of the presenters. When the second speaker named Giles appeared at the front, he quipped that: “Social Media appears to be full of people that went to Public School!”
Although I resisted the urge to emulate Spike Lee’s character Mookie by throwing a trash can through the window, I did feel the need to use my opportunity to speak to point out that not everyone in social media went to Public School, as did Josh Feldberg who spoke after me.
I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the event organisers Mashup*, who deserve credit for pulling together such an interesting line up of presenters. Nor am I having a go at the other speakers (well, perhaps with one exception). They were being themselves and using the cultural references that they could relate to.
I guess I’m asking a broader question of “where are all the brotha’s and sista’s?” when it comes to social media. We know that black and Asian people participate in social media just as much, and in some cases more than white people, so why are so few involved in the cutting edge of social and digital media production?
It’s not a question I think I can answer right now. It is one that is being asked in the US too. I’m sure that I’ll return to it in this blog because I passionately believe that we’ve got to Do the Right Thing.
Feel free to comment, disagree, or debate below.