Social media and sustainability

CALL me new-fashioned, a slave to techno-popularism. In the space of a few weeks I’ve had my eyes opened to how social media – spearheaded by the relentless networking immediacy of Twitter, the mass market likeability of Facebook and the picture-show power of YouTube – will be an absolute game-changer for sustainability. By Murray Hogarth.
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Guest Journalist

About a month ago I started to tweet. Hello social media, goodbye sleep. Sure I stumble around LinkedIn, and most of my family does the Facebook thing, but Twitter is a social network made for an info-junkie. Now books have become Himalayas, even paragraphs are long compared to a tweet, yet it’s amazing how much quality information can be packed into a sliver of opinion or news and a web-link.

A full day’s tweet in-box is a virtual archipelago of leads, ideas, insights, wit, sarcasm, bias, counter-views, revelations and hard data. Across all social media sites, it’s now estimated there are 1.5 billion-plus visits a day globally. In Australia, the trend is propelling numbers, time spent and sheer volume of data traffic on the internet, making the case for the NBN stronger by the day.

When they write the history of how we transformed to the new sustainable economy, I reckon the rapid rise of social media will be a big fat e-book. Social networks, communities online, have an amazing ability to begin life in the realm of trivia, then gather complexity and profundity as they evolve at pace. That’s happening before our eyes.

People with big issues like the future of the planet are populating social networks with serious content, connecting up locally and globally, as businesses and brands vie with celebrities and public figures in the most dynamic forums on earth.

Here, I believe, smart social change movements will prosper, intractable industries with "bad" products or attitudes will struggle, and new brands genuinely helping a sustainable future will become much loved. I’m anticipating a myriad of productive social sub-networks of energy saving, biodiversity preservation, landscape restoration, greenwash exposure, eco-entrepreneurism, consumption reduction, community action, and much more – and many are happening already.

Yet when I told old journalist friends over dinner that I’d begun tweeting, they laughed derisorily. Who’d care about bite-sized insights into the mindless monotony of my life? All non-tweeps say much the same thing about the 140-characters max per message, micro-blogging format. I know because I was one of them. Nearly 15 million people like that horrible Canadian teen boy pop idol Justin Bieber on Facebook, and over 3 million follow vacuous "it girl" Paris Hilton on Twitter.

But it’s the many thousands following many hundreds of sustainability opinion-shapers and doers that I find more compelling. I try to tell my sceptical friends how I’ve seen a content-rich world that I can tap with my own tailored news feed 24/7, and narrowcast into whenever I want. There’s more information than I can ever keep up with on any given day, which is okay because when I miss stuff, I know the next day will bring a whole new overload.

When I was a cadet reporter on a country newspaper 30 years ago there was an old telex machine in the corner of the news room spewing out pre-selected text from around the country and the world, everything from the Dapto dogs racing results to the progressive amputation and slow death of Yugoslavian strongman General Tito. Now I design and select my own feed and get it on my laptop and my smart phone, and my iPad too if I give in to temptation and get one of those.

With a sustainability commentator’s cap on, what I see is a vast communications realm where morals and money collide, where corporations, governments and civil society contest on a differently-tilted playing field, and where little if anything can be hidden. In short, I find it surprising exciting and rich with emerging opportunities, even if at last count I only have 215 followers.

Part two of this article will follow tomorrow.

First published on WME Environmental Management News

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