Media 2.0 and Homelessness

written by Marisa Seitz
June 17, 2010
Hello all! My name's Marisa, and I’m the new social media intern here at the Alliance (there's actually a LOT of new folk here this summer - but more about us later).

On June 14, I was given the opportunity to attend a series of talks on social media and media in general, as part of Digital Capital Week, an event focused on technology, innovation, and all things digital in Washington DC.

I was sent because, as the Alliance has noted on this blog before, the use of social media tools in poverty and homeless assistance organizations continues to drag behind as compared to other movements.

So we're studying up!

In a discussion about the use of social media tools in news organizations - “Social and Traditional Media: How News and Media Organizations Are Getting Social and Why They Need to Do It” – panelists were all quick to agree that there is no longer an “if” as to whether businesses and organizations should use social media. Andy Carvin, who works for NPR, noted how people have been “social” with the organization for years, even since the late 1970s when people would send self-created audio files to local stations. Today’s social media platforms - including Facebook and Twitter - are only newer, faster ways for an audience to interact with organizations.

The panelists also agreed that the beauty of social media is that it acknowledges the power of the people. According to Carvin, when NPR seeks to add something extra to a project, they often turn to their social media outlets and ask people who follow NPR to help out.

And you know what? It works.

Listeners have submitted complex Google maps that explained Hurricane Gustav or analyzed trends of an election. The listener base that NPR had fostered online offer their skills as a way to get involved. Fellow panelists agreed with Carvin, noting that social media was a powerful tool that allowed their audiences to become interactive communities.

Jeff Pulver, founder of Vonage and VoIP industry leader, elaborated on this concept. The digital social media we use today, he argued, is serving an important function: to connect people.

Pulver talked about social media’s ability to take a single voice and amplify it, a phenomenon often seen on Twitter through the use of re-tweets. Change comes from ideas - and social media affords new ways of spreading ideas and affecting change. Pulver also stressed that the way to best use social media like Twitter was to be genuine, to try and establish connections to people, to care enough to reply directly back to them, to thank them when they pass along information.

Lee Rainie, Director of the acclaimed Pew Internet & American Life Project brought a data-based perspective to the conversation he discussed their latest survey on the Internet.

Rainie showed the difference in Internet consumption in the last decade.


Rainie talked about previous surveys, what they had correctly predicted (such as online security becoming a problem) and what they had thought would happen that did not (such as change in classroom structure). He then went on to discuss the results from their most recent survey, explaining some of the questions they asked and how their group of experts responded.

  • Will Google make us stupid?
    Most experts said no, saying that cognitive sentiments will shift. New literacies will emerge, there will be the rise of “extreme googlers”. That people are people, and any characteristics that people seem to be gaining from the Internet were there before, and the Internet is only giving people a chance to express them.

  • What is the future of online anonymity?
    Either online sharing will be sharply curtailed or information will still be pretty easy to get in 2020, but experts are split as to which it will be. They believe that new laws will emerge, but perhaps people will realize that it is really confidentiality and autonomy (the ability to choose who can see your information) and not privacy that they want.

  • What will be the Internet’s impact on ready and writing?
    Experts agreed that writing will mostly improve. The Internet encourages participation, often through writing and reading, and as there is more writing and reading, skill will improve. It was also noted that with younger generations where there is concern over writing skills because of the way people write in things such as texts, it is mostly unfounded because teens don’t see texting as writing, but as a conversation, and know to write differently in the classroom.

It's a big social media world out there - and the promise of their utility is overwhelming. It's up to us, it seems, to make sure that we capitalize on the opportunities that our foray out into the digital landscape offers.

Nowhere is that promise more important than in serving the most vulnerable communities among us. We've been doing a lot of finger-crossing lately - lots of planning and thinking, too - and now we're transferring our best wishes to our best efforts.

Wish us luck!