Sociology of Google, Facebook and Twitter’s success – and what’s next

molehills by h3_six via FlickrOur utilities have changed beyond recognition

In the last five or is it six or seven years, our lives have been transformed.  In a year or two, we might count banking crises and revolutions and seismic activity in the change.  Right now, I am talking about Google, Facebook and Twitter who have crept into contemporary live as assuredly as TV, running water and phones.

The ubiquity of new internet services and their ready availability to everyone – rich or poor, powerful or disposed – gives them the status of institutions. Google is now a verb.  “Google it!” Facebook is a noun.  “I am a bad Facebooker.”  Twitter has its own vocabulary. “RT” = “retweet”.

The very ubiquity of internet services worry us. They seem to have taken over our lives.

The characteristics of new institutions

But of course, they have taken over our lives.  New utilities scare us because they reflect deep changes in society and our status relative to each other.  That is the point.

New institutions have three characteristics.

  • They bring us together in a forum – in a talking shop – on a massive scale.
  • They provide a “complete world” where everyone and every interest is invited.
  • They allow us to take part in history – indeed they allow us to make history.

Are we about to see even more new institutions emerge?

I have a deep sense that we are going to see changes in these central apps – not necessarily in technology but in whom they serve.

If we want to foresee change, indeed if we want the heady experience of being part of history, we have to  look at the world historically and socially with a keen eye.  Who is included in the “complete world” as of today?  And who is on the sidelines waiting to join in?

When we add a wider range of pressing interests to the mix, where will we see new institutions germinating and sprouting because people are looking for a forum where they can connect ever more widely to make history.

It is not the disaffected that matter so much in the emergence of institutions.  It is who wants to connect more widely.  Who wants to connect where they couldn’t connect before?  Who is genuinely interested in listening to other people who aren’t part of their current existence?

Further reading on the birth of institutions

Barbara Czarniawska.  (2009). Emerging Institutions: Pyramids or Anthills.  Organization Studies 30(4). pp 423-441. (History of the London School of Economics) [Download the full paper following link highlighted in yellow in the middle column]

More bad news coming. The internet will expose more institutional spin

I know my institutions and can read their behavior

Many years ago, I friend of mine was negotiating his salary with his employer.  To aid his efforts, he paid a friend who was an employment agent to advertise a job just like his and to offer a wonderful package.

My students at the time were all excited.  The advertisement vindicated their choice of major.  Yes,  if they worked hard, they could follow an institutional path and be rich!!

Not even knowing my friend’s devious scheme (I found out later), I dismissed the advertisement with a contemptuous, “It’s a scam”.

See, I knew three things that my students didn’t know:

  • The prevailing salary rates, not just in my profession, but in sister professions of accounting, marketing, etc.  I knew what the market thought was reasonable.
  • Business conditions and the amount of gross profit available for institutional careers (you know the one’s guaranteed by the taxpayer no matter how much you mess up)
  • That people run institutions lie.

Before I worked as a work & organizational psychologist, I too thought institutions were honorable

I remember the first time I fell for an institutional scam.  It was a painful experience and it took me years to get over it.

We trust institutions

When we are young, we believe that institutional leaders are honorable.  Institutional leaders go to great lengths to make us believe that because that is their job.  After all an institution is only an institution if it is stable and trusted.  So they will tell you anything to have you believe they have done their job.

But we should remember that to check whether they are trustworthy

And that is why we must not trust them.  We must ask for evidence.  Hard, cold evidence.  What are the career paths in the organization?  Where are the statistics?  What are the future scenarios for the organization?  Can you look at them?

An institutional leader cannot use his own spin as evidence

Lord Mandelson is doing the right thing by making universities show students the destinations of graduates An institutional leader cannot hold up his own spin as evidence that he has succeeded in making order and stability for us.  He was to show us the evidence.

In the days of the internet, data on the institution’s performance should be freely available

And I am afraid that if that in the days of the internet that if that evidence is not freely available on the internet in slurpable form – meaning that you can download the  input data, not the processed data – then they obviously have something to hide.

Harsh words, I know

But remember my friend, and remember how my students were taken in.

Ask questions and the first question is ~ what happens when I ask?

First sign of scoundrels running the organization

If they don’t want to answer, or if they set up a meeting where we are doing all the answering and our questions come after they have made up their minds, then they are frauds.  Then they are frauds and and we have found them out.

Disappointing, of course.  Doubly disappointing.  Trebly disappointing.

  • We don’t get what we want.
  • Institutions by definition should be honorable.  So we don’t get what we want AND we know we have frauds in our midst.
  • Institutions are usually paid for by the taxpayer.  We don’t get what we want, we know you are trying to cheat us AND we are paying for you.

My priorities when you use public money to cheat me

Hmmph.  Well for now, my priority must be to get what I need and want.  Then I will participate to clear out the rotten institutions.  Then I will think about recovering my money from you.

Is that the right order?

For the young & inexperienced

And if you are young and inexperienced, stop trusting institutions who don’t trust you with hard, cold data.  Spin that they have done their job of making a safe, orderly environment for you is not evidence. Ask for the evidence.  If they don’t have it, act accordingly ~ warily ~ get what you need and in due course, expose their shenanigans.