One of the mantras of Social Media advocates (of which I’m one) is the flatenning effect. It’s what I noticed a year ago (and wrote about here) when I was able to speak directly to directors, CEOs, managers and decision makers without getting asked “And who are you?” by a secretary before being refused to be transfered to the boss’ direct line.

I guess what it means is that you don’t need a business card – Social Media gives you a direct line.

And in this way, yes, I feel that the world is the flattest that it has been since Copernicus came on the scene. But still, things – and people – are not all equal.

I should point out that I don’t even think all people are equal. Yes, all people have equal rights and responsibilities towards other people, but we are certainly not equal. Firstly we are not equal in our make up. The whole thing of us being diverse and different means that we have different strengths that compliment each other and multiple our combined effectiveness. The second way we are not equal is in the value that we can impart. Yes – we can learn something from everyone – but we can learn more from some people than we can from others.

The trouble is that online we are quick to talk about this flattening thing – this equality, democracy and place where “no one is an expert” – but when it comes to reality, these ideals are not actualised. I’ve seen so many people who profess the notion of flattening on Twitter, but when it comes to putting steak on the plate – when you want to talk to them or get them involved in something – they certainly want to be on more than an equal footing than everyone else. They demand special treatment, special slots, and special time so that they don’t have to mingle with what they might as well call the ‘proletariat attendees’. They are very specific over who they will and won’t spend time with even though they profess a belief in a “flat” Social Media landscape.

Andrew Keen (despite all the purposely provocative talk) says very well that authenticity is the new power. Having spent time working as a television producer and also as a model, I know that everything in those industries is staged. So I often wonder whether this authenticity is staged, too. I remember Ashon Kutcher telling Opera (on the show were @ev  set her up with Twitter) that Twitter meant “any person can be a celebrity” and that “any person’s voice could be as powerful as a newspaper” – Ashton of course was acting here and reading from the Social Media script – it isn’t true. In fact, the moment the word ‘celebrity’ was used I un-followed Ashton because I just am not interested in garnering celebrity from Social Media and Twitter, and despite what he says, that is what he’s using it for. His own words betray him.

On the other side of the coin, what really impressed me this week was talking to the keynote speakers at Like Minds. I had phone calls with them all, and I was astounded at how ‘flat’ they really were. They had no special requests regarding who they would and wouldn’t talk to. They are all thrilled to be running Like Minds Lunchtime Talks, hosting a conversation with 10 people they probably don’t know. Even when it came to the little luxuries like their favourite drink, room upgrades and the rest, they had no demands and were happy to for me to ‘do whatever makes it easiest.’ Chris in particular was so easy to sort out because he literally had no special requests, said he’d talk on whatever I’d ask him to, didn’t need time by himself, and just wanted to ‘get to know and meet new people.’

With all our speakers, both keynotes, panelists, moderators and our bloggers, this common trait is strong. Lloyd Davis, founder of Tuttle, said something very profound: “Tuttle isn’t for everyone, but it is anyone.” Amen. I understand now that people-to-people means that while we understand what we are doing is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that we can’t see everyone or speak to everyone, we are for anyone, and have time for anyone.

The Leading Question

  • Do you believe in a flat Social Media Earth? Or rather – what in Social Media is flat, and what isn’t?
  • How much of Social Media Authenticity is staged?

Archived Comments

  • Sophy Norris

    Scott great post…. GREAT post. Something I have been pondering for ages (as you know)… and something I want to chew on for a while…

    As with “real life”, SM has gangs, clubs, cliques et al. Why should SM be any different?

    So, is the perceived flattening effect (your bypassing of Gatekeepers) which flatters people into thinking “one for all and all for one” I wonder?

    However, I do think, it is in our human nature to congregate with those we like, get on with, flatter us, even challenge us. It is, however, we can (I am super guilty of this) settle into these relationships until they become almost too easy .

    SM (and I have discovered this particularly in the last month with some new blogs I have been following THANKS Robin Dickinson and Jeremy Head!) I have found, has a unique way of challenging this comfort, of making me think about things I find tricky, irritating, troublesome and often tackling them head on.

    I find this – sometimes – uncomfortable thought process – one of the most flattening aspects of SM for me! Long may it continue!


  • Scott Gould

    So, how is it not flat? More than just the groups that we get into, what are the other levels?

    I also think we must agree that the world is flatter than it ever has been – how do you think that effects these levels? Im keen to know, with the world being this flat, what are the key areas of distinction that remain?

  • Sophy Norris

    Is the world flatter than it has ever been before? I am not sure I agree with that at all… part of it perhaps…

    but how can it be flat when the distinction between rich and poor is wider than ever before, when millions live without electricity let alone the internet, when we live in a world where people – even in our own “enlightened” country have no hope of escaping the circumstances into which they were born.

    How can it be flat, when a country has literally been flattened, and we watch the horror unfold and can do so little about it…

    I think the world is more divided that has ever been. It is the lucky few – people like you and me – who have the intellectual freedom to express our opinion, hope that people listen to us and that we listen back.

    But surely, we are in the minority, and that we are privileged to be so?

    Not sure you meant this though!! Sophs

  • Scott Gould

    Well – cut to the chase – yes, the gap is wider between rich and poor across the world. Yes, there is a wider and uneven distribution of the world’s resources.

    But also, there is more equality in our culture than there has been before.

    However this wasn’t what I was getting at.

    What I mean is more along the lines of it took me a year to get to where I am using Social Media. This would’ve taken me years before. I’d never have been able to speak to the people I am speaking to, etc, without Social Media flattening the modes of communication.

    So perhaps the distinction is that our communication is flatter, but many others things aren’t!

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    “So perhaps the distinction is that our communication is flatter, but many others things aren’t!”

    I think that is spot on. Technology has widened the opportunity for people to communicate and be heard but that obviously doesn’t apply to all. It applies to those who can afford the equipment but in the grand scheme of things the gap between rich and poor is probably as big as ever. Flatter communication does still enable those with these privileges to be able to help those without – this has moved on an awful lot over the past 5-10 years.

  • banksy6

    The world has definaltely become flatter in terms of communication although I feel we’re still a very long way off being able to get hold of everyone we might want through channels that SM provides. My guess is this will be even easier towards the middle to latter part of this year. Many CEO’s and MD’s I meet in the UK still haven’t adopted SM yet although they are starting to sniff around it. I think this will be very interesting later in 2010 for us all.

    I also think its worth noting that although many seemingly untouchable people are very good at responding via SM channels, a great many still are not. They seem to see tools like Twitter as a one way channel to drive their ego’s and don’t engage – nothing makes me more mad! Rant over :)

  • Scott Gould

    LOL – yeah, very good point. Adoption is still low, and like you say, many ‘stage authenticity’ rather than being the personable person they profess to be.

    What I think *is* fine is if you don’t profess to be that guy who is ‘friends with everyone’. Rory Sutherland (Ogilvy Chairman) doesn’t respond to my tweets on Twitter, but never professes to be the guy who does. Likewise Chris Brogan does profess to be the guy who talks to anyone – and you know what – he does!

    It’s the middle, where what they say and what they don’t line up. Those guys are the ones that get me mad.

  • Scott Gould

    Hey Robert

    So what *isn’t* flat? I think yes, our communication is becoming flatter. But plenty isn’t.

    Shoot from the hip – let’s see what they are!

  • http://twitter.com/MHowitt Martin Howitt

    ok, so I sort of agree with this: things like social media (and before it, the internet, and before that the telephone) removed the friction from some interactions. Every bit of friction that gets removed makes the world just that little bit flatter.

    Ebay, for example, is a place where people with stuff to sell talk to people who want to buy stuff. An almost perfect market (in the economics textbook sense).

    Every time there is an imbalance of information in the world, it’s like physics acts to smooth it out. And obviously with information is power.

    But there is still a way to go. Inequality is still a massive problem – but it is one that can be helped with better information and more inclusive communications networks. So Social media is helping the world get flatter.

    Social capital (via things like Kiva) could even take the whole thing to the next level….

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    The part that isn’t flat is the part that the unprivileged don’t have access to. The parts that are flat are becoming flatter by the day to the advantage of people like you and me.

    This is going to sound really strange but I picture it a little like in the image at the top of this post. There are vast areas of flatness which make communication between individuals very easy with very few barriers. There are also very rocky areas where people don’t really stand a chance of being able to communicate so directly, often through no fault of their own. Then there will be the occasional wood hut pitched up in areas of flatness where some privileged has chosen to keep those barriers anyway.

    I am no expert in the levels of communication in underprivileged places but the areas that are extremely rocky may be becoming flatter by the day. If so, technically communication is becoming much flatter although there is still a very long way to go.

    I am not sure if I have ever posted a comment as strange as this – or if I have used the word flat on so many occasions – it has been a very long week but I hope you see what I am trying to say!

  • Sophy Norris

    Right! This is me done for today – as I know I have gone off topic and off Scott’s original intention!!

    The Social Media world may (or may not) be flat. That may, or may not be, for the good (personally – on balance – I think the ability to contact anyone (in theory) is great, but the fact we are all different and “bumpy” is what make it even better!).

    However, the world is not flat. Found these stats today:


    some top line –

    50% of the world live on less that$2.50 a day and 80% on less than £10.
    1 billion people entered the 21 century unable to read or write
    the largest disparity between rich and poor is in the US
    1.6 billion people live without electricity

    This is an inherently UNflat world…. this is a whole UNIVERSE to whom debates such as this make no difference. This is a world which information could transform.

    So, I guess, I wonder today (and Scott I still think this is a GREAT post – and this is my own tangent!) what can social media, mobile communications, accessible information do to help address this problem. Can it even get anywhere near it?

    In a world where so many of us are connected and want to help – can we?

    Is a flat world one where we all have similar chances in life? or is that simply unrealistic? Will technology facilitate this? Must it?

    Obviously I have gone on my own journey today – so Scott – thanks for that – I have a lot to think about over the weekend….too many questions, so few answers right now…..

    good weekend all….

  • Scott Gould

    Hi Sophy

    Those stats are terrible. Yes. Tragic. Yes. Needs change. Yes.

    Can Social Media change them? Yes.

    I spoke to Jon Akwue this morning. They carried out a campaign that used Social Media to lower teenage pregnancy – and they have the numbers to prove it.

    I am currently developing very careful relationships in order to do something special this year: carry out a Social Change project through Social Media along the lines of what you’re saying.

    I think technology can help. Perhaps you can help me identify the ways it can?

  • Scott Gould

    I hear you and agree – it’s my “lifting restrictions” diagram.

    But does that diagram take us to a place of complete flatness? No.

    So what are the things that *aren’t* flat?

  • http://twitter.com/alexthegreen Alex Green

    Just to comment back on the original topic…

    Do we really want the digital / virtual, even SM world to be truly flat?

    I get the bit where people claim one thing but act another is pretty irritating, but that’s no different from offline contacts. Some people are just hypocrites.

    However (gone off topic already) let me outline a scenario and tell me if you think I am way off beam.

    A CEO of a major player decides, for the sake of argument, to start tweeting.
    Lets imagine it is Steve Jobs.
    Imagine how many @realstevejobs there would be in a day.
    I just did a quick check and picked a random business ‘celeb’ Duncan Bannatyne, he got 17 @ mentions in the last 2 hours, and I don’t think he’s that popular.
    So the real Apple CEO signs up to Twitter and gets what over 500 @ mentions a day (conservative)
    To stay true to your principles and model Scott, he should by rights reply to all the ones that are sensible and not just people being rude or stupid.
    I imagine that would take a long time to achieve, and that would detract from the other work that he is clearly undertaking.
    Personally, I would rather Steve Jobs got on with innovating the next generation of kick-ass products than replying to tweets, and us possibly missing out on groundbreakers like the iPhone and the iMac etc. in the process.

    I know that’s a bit of a facile and estimated example but hopefully you can see my point.

    So at what level do we really want the flatness to stop?

    I’m all for accountability and openness and transparency but I’d rather have a SM ‘personal relationship’ with the account controller for my business bank account than the CEO of Abbey and I’m not all too sure I like the idea of the first option very much.

    Am I missing the point or barking up the wrong lamp-post?

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.


  • Scott Gould

    Hey Alex

    “To stay true to your principles and model Scott, he should by rights reply to all the ones that are sensible and not just people being rude or stupid.”


    My point is that IF he is saying “SOcial Media is flat, democriticed, all about the people”, then year, he should else he is a hypocrite.

    But if he doesn’t, then no, he doesn’t need to reply to everyone.

    Your final point is excellent: “Id rather have a SM ‘personal relationship’ with the account controller for my business bank account than the CEO of Abbey” – and even though you don’t like that option much, that is far more realistic.

    Thats how I see it!

  • http://twitter.com/alexthegreen Alex Green

    Ok, then I did miss the point! :)
    Thanks for clarification.

    I guess it still begs the question ‘How flat do we want it to go” and the answer is surely a matter of personal preference.

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Hi Scott,

    Technology opens doors. It facilitates access. It removes friction and increases the opportunity for connectivity, sharing and enrichment. The technology-empowered world is indeed flatter–potentially.

    Enter humans. At one level, we are all near-genetically identical bags of water, chasing up and down Maslow’s Hierarchy.

    What distinguishes us from each other (for the purposes of this discussion) is how accessible we make ourselves. Much of this will be affected by ego and whether we see our place in the world (or organisational chart) as hierarchical or not – be it family, community, company, culture or country.

    The real issue for me is not whether technology has made the world flatter, but now that the world is flatter, are we humans going to behave in ‘flatter ways’? Now that the door has been opened – and access facilitated, how are we going to respond? Are we going to let others in?

    It’s people to people – and how we respond to each other. And I venture to say that this scenario has come up time and time again in history.

    When navigation technology facilitated a flatter earth for those brave sailors centuries ago, how they responded to the new world inhabitants – slaughter or share – was an ego-driven, human-to-human issue. And that is an aspect of humanity that seems to have stayed constant irrespective of technological breakthrough.

    Wonderful to be in such a rich discussion, Scott.

    Well done.

    Robin :)

  • Scott Gould

    Ok – so very good distinction – even though communication is flatter, we must adopt flatter behaviour.

    I think your experiment with a comment drive blog is part of this – letting people in, rather than pushing information out.

    I’ve got a post lined up on it for tomorrow :-)

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Excellent. Flat is the new black! ;)

    Looking forward to your next post.


  • http://blog.jeroenhoekman.com Jeroen Hoekman

    Hi Scott, this is a difficult one. If I understand you right, you say “flat means we are all equal and have the same right to give our opinion”.

    The flattening effect of social media to my idea is the possibility it offers to all people to express their opinion. However, that does not mean that everybody “has” to listen to whoever is talking. Your keynote speakers will talk to anyone, but will they do the same after the Likeminds event? I agree with Robin, the technology does empower people and nakes the world flatter, but people are still people and will behave in the same old pattern in social media.

    The problem is that anybody is able to say whatever they wish, no matter if it is true or not, or if it ads any value to others. However, I do expect that social media will evolve and will adapt social rules as society has always done in history, thus filtering out “unwanted” behavior. Although this will unflatten it at least partly.

  • Scott Gould

    Hey Jeroen,

    You’re right – and you mirror what Robin says – that even though our communication may be flatter, our behaviour isn’t.

    I think what you and him have said here is very, very pertinent and is the answer to my post. SO:

    Yes, the earth is flatter in the communication we use.

    But no, the earth is not flat on our behaviour.

    One final thing is that, still, the earth is ultimately round. There will always been inequality – so is fighting it the wrong thing to do? Should we instead be celebrating it, and using maximizing the strengths that come with it?

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Excellent build, Jeroen. Great that you and Scott have connected here.

    Robin :)

  • http://blog.jeroenhoekman.com Jeroen Hoekman

    I think it is commendable to want to flatten behavior in a positive way. However, although the Internet has given people a lot more information than before, with the ability to share ideas and knowledge, flattening also has the danger of flattening our knowledge. Before new ideas would start in different places and because people were thinking differently, ideas were often very different. That way, when ideas would eventually be shared, they could create new thoughts, philosophies and inventions. Now however, everyone hears the same ideas at once, leading to everyone thinking into the same direction, which to my idea means less people will think out of the box.

  • Scott Gould

    True – I was thinking today that a flat world is what the communists said they wanted – and of course, corruption ensued.

  • http://blog.jeroenhoekman.com Jeroen Hoekman

    I do not want to drag this discussion, but one thing came to mind that I have to mention: it is impossible for social media to be flat. Unequality is intrinsic to Social media. People have so many “friends” or “followers”, because they want to feel popular, feel like a celebrity. Make people equal and you might kill social media…
    Full explanation at: http://blog.jeroenhoekman.com/social_media_flat…