What the News Could Never Do

I love Facebook.  It’s a great way to connect to people I enjoy communicating with, see new ideas and articles, enjoy social diversions during the day (when you work from home it can replace the water cooler), and of course keep up on memes and videos of cats.  But there is another function of Facebook I didn’t foresee that has become increasingly valuable.  It does something news outlets can’t do – respond to exactly what I’m interested in at the moment and give me stories about it.

A few weeks back I realized it had been some time since I read or watched anything about new advances in science and technology.  I remembered the excitement I got as a kid looking at Popular Mechanics magazine, and wanted to get that thrill again by hearing the coolest stuff now within the realm of possibility.  I could have gone to any number of news outlets and browsed the technology section.  I could have gone to tech specific magazines or websites.  But these don’t always have articles on the most cutting edge stuff, and if I picked the wrong day, I might get a story about a new app instead.  It would require some browsing.  I could use Google, but Google is best when you know what you want to find, and I was looking for something I didn’t know existed.  In short, I needed to be inspired by the creative power of mankind, and I had no where to turn for a quick overview.

I posted an open-ended question on Facebook: What are the coolest things going on in science and technology? Within a few hours I had dozens of amazing articles, video clips, pictures and stories of everything from 3D burrito printers, to graphene smart phones, to particle accelerators, etc. ad nauseam.  Not only that, the responses were from people who knew something about me and could add some humor, flavor, or insight no other outlet could.  There was even some friendly competition over what was truly the best innovation going.  I’ve only read through half of the things posted thus far, but I still go back to the thread from time to time to be further amazed.

News outlets and periodicals can produce great stories.  The problem is, they have no way of knowing when I’m going to be in the mood for the latest trend in herb gardening or the latest adventure sport.  They publish such pieces, but most of the time my interests don’t intersect with their schedule.  Sure, they archive them, but there’s no good way for me to access the info unless I already know exactly what I want to read.  Enter Facebook.  Now it’s like every one of my digital acquaintances work for me.  I can outsource the article reading, categorizing and rating to a few thousand people I find interesting.  They enjoy the chance to share their interests, and I get the benefit of good stories without wading through all the other fluff.  I do the same for them.

I’ve got a lot more to say about Facebook, but I’ll save it for another post.  I am of the opinion that we haven’t fully internalized how radical is the shift in social order wrought by Facebook.  We have yet to appreciate the tremendous impact on every facet of social and commercial life.  The layers are many.

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