Social Media’s Tower of Babel

The Hebrew Bible tells the story of the Tower of Babel.  This monument to human achievement and pride was to be built so tall as to reach the heavens.  It was never completed because the builders were unable to communicate properly with each other.  According to the Book of Genesis, it was through divine intervention that during the building of the tower the people involved began to speak in multiple languages and thus could no longer understand one another.  When they spoke, all they heard was noise.  On May 31, people in the Western church celebrated (and on June 7 the Eastern church will celebrate) the Feast of Pentecost, which remembers the day when through divine intervention people speaking multiple languages suddenly began to understand one another.  In other words, they went from making noise to making sense.

We are in danger of building a modern Tower of Babel via social media.  Thanks to social media, there is more information on the web than anyone can read or understand in a lifetime. Every day more and more people take up social computing and, in the process, proliferate comments, links and blogs.  The net effect is one of deafening noise.  Not only are we all speaking different languages, but we are all speaking at once.

The clamor of these interactions is enough to drive a person to consider opting out of social computing all together.  However, in so doing you choose personal peace over rich opportunities for learning, innovation and community.  So what will it take to help us make sense of the noise generated by social media? The better answer is to find ways of improving your personal (and ultimately our collective) sense-making.  Some of that happens naturally via social computing itself as fellow travelers sift through the information and pass on things of merit.  if you can tune into the voices of the right guides, you can follow the trail they blaze for you.  In time, each of us needs be a reliable guide to provide that filtering and refining function for others.

Social media is in its Tower of Babel moment.  I hope I’m around to see its Pentecost when we can celebrate the triumph of sense-making and then truly enjoy the rich resources social computing offers.

[Photo Credit:  Thomas Thomas, of a painting by Pieter Breugel the Elder]