Christian, aka Documentally has a post entitled "Understand Social Technology Through Participation", in which he says:
"How much can you understand from just watching and not participating?
Last night I met a Professor who although used Facebook and other platforms seemed proud to state he did not use twitter.
His job was to study social Technology and although obviously a very smart chap It made me wonder.. Is it possible to comprehend something as complex as social Technology by not participating in a platform like twitter. Can you glean just as much insight from only using sites like Facebook?..
All of my insights into Social Technology have come from my uses of it. "
I agree with him, it's been a bit of a bugbear of mine, the way for example, when Facebook was a'happening it was suddenly inundated with education, psychology, media, business and social science researchers who all wanted to have a look at this phenomenon. They did their research, wrote it up in traditional journal papers or media outlets and then disappeared. And I kept thinking 'they don't get it.'
But first I ought to put the contrary case:
It is perfectly possible to research any subject or group of individuals without using an active participation method. For example I can research the behaviour of vets, football hooligans or stockmarket traders without becoming a vet/hooligan/trader. Indeed not only is it possible, but it is often desirable to have the objectivity that research requires.
It is also the case that not everyone has to use every technology to 'qualify'. I may not use Second Life but that doesn't mean I can't comment on social media in general. And we don't want to have some kind of qualification to start with where people starting wearing a McDonalds type star badge to demonstrate their social-media expertise.
But having said all of that I think that academics and journalists who don't use the new media should be treated with caution. Here's why:
- It's a fast changing world – the way technologies are used changes, so the survey you did last year won't apply this year
- The use and benefits are very subtle, you have to spend some time to understand them and you only really do that by participating
- There is an interconnection between many different tools, so you cannot cherry pick one in isolation without understanding how it might exist within an ecosystem of tools for an individual
- It is only through participation that you begin to see the types of interesting things to ask. By using the tools you will formulate more meaningful research questions
- If you simply research it then you see it as a distinct entity or community eg 'it's a teen thing'
- If you want people to engage with your research then you have to earn some points in the reciprocity economy
So, in general I already dismiss any journalist article that begins "I've never used [technology X] but I know this…". But I am also suspicious of any academic article on social media where the author doesn't have a blog, or twitter id.