Embracing Social Media

2010-2011 Issue 2

New-Technology Guru Speaks at SCS Homecoming

“That means I dropped out,” joked Mitch Joel about Dean Judith Potter’s gracious summary of Joel’s education path during her introduction to his talk at the Faculty Club. Some dropout: Joel is currently the President of Twist Image (recently named one of Canada’s top-10 agencies by Marketing Magazine), a newspaper and magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling business book Six Pixels of Separation. He spoke to several hundred alumni, instructors and staff in the fall.

In an interview before his stimulating presentation, Joel openly admitted that while he’s never been great at formal, linear education, he’s a strong believer in the continuous learning opportunities that the Internet, connectivity and social media networks can afford us all. “Education doesn’t end once your classes are over or when you make the final payment on your student loan,” he asserted. “It’s an ongoing process and very much in sync with the outreach and learning capabilities of social media.”

He advises students to use technologies like blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to build valuable relationships. “Don’t look at these tools as a new way to make your 8.5 x 11-inch resumé work better; look at them from the perspective of improving your career.

The social media platform gives you a wonderful opportunity to make valuable connections.”

On the classroom front, Joel sees lots of opportunities to use social media for new course-delivery methods: “The tools are readily available now to change the form of education, and I hope there are some brave souls trying that. Institutions like McGill think more openly about where education might be heading. For example, in an online course you can have guest lecturers in Kenya or Australia – it doesn’t really matter where people are physically located.”

While some people are reluctant to plunge into the ocean of social media, Joel sees no reason to hesitate: “Today we have a platform that allows anyone with a shareable thought or image, or an audio or video clip, to instantly publish it for free to billions of people around the world.” Still, he counsels that there are right and wrong ways to do that. “You learn pretty quickly whether your content connects with others or not, and what it looks like on the platform.”

Joel believes that social media applications have democraticized publishing and marketing: “It’s not a top-down process any longer – it’s more of a ground-swell effect. That can be disarming for many people because everything is being discussed in a very open way. Everything can be shared, edited, retweeted, collaborated on, fixed, changed, wiki-ed. That can be scary for some people. The winners will be the people who really think differently about how to use these tools in a collaborative, positive way rather than the ones
who fear that the tools might be used for evil.”

Asked what he foresees in five years, Joel adamantly maintains he’s a “presentist,” not a futurist. “I really like to focus on the tools and how people are using them now. I think we’re seeing indications of where things are going with devices like the iPad, and with the boom in wireless and mobile connectivity, including the rising importance of texting. And I think there will be a trend of removing the technology from the technology to make these tools smoother and more aligned with touch and human nature.”

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