The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist
After a rocky start with technology, I chose to pursue the humanities instead. Over time I learned to appreciate and embrace technology’s capabilities. Realizing the power of the Social Web in particular, I became a Social Computing Evangelist. To prove the value of social technologies, I decided in 2008 to “live a life without email.” Six years later my belief and commitment are unshaken. What makes the Social Web so special is its ability to humanise us, to remind us all of our ability to connect, share and build relationships with others no matter where they may be in this world. It helps us regain our sense of belonging to a group, our tribe.
There was a time when I didn’t quite like technology. Back in my high school years, computing was one of the subjects that I kept struggling with time and time again. Eventually I gave up on it. You could say I was a bit of a technophobe. I moved on to a career in humanities instead. Fast forward to 2014 and today I wouldn’t be able to get by without the World Wide Web. What happened then? Well, transformation is what happened. The Internet changed my life 17 years ago, and my relationship with it is still going strong.
On January 20th, 1997, I started working for the largest IT firm in the world, IBM. From the very beginning, at the infancy of the World Wide Web, I realised that perhaps my high school experiences with computing didn’t provide the best foundation for my relationship with technology, and maybe I needed to move forward and restart with a clean slate. That’s when the transformation journey commenced.
As time went by, I started to get more and more heavily involved with technology. It all began for me with customer service – first the mainframe, then PCs, then ultimately the Internet. It was in 2000, when I was exposed for the first time to something called “wikis,” that I had that aha moment, realising how the Web – the Social Web that was then only just getting started – would change us all for good, whether in our personal or work lives. There would be no turning back.
That was the time when I realised the key, paramount role that technology and the Web would play in helping us collaborate and share our knowledge much more effectively in the workplace. It was that time as well when I realised that, if anything, the main purpose for the Web was to help us connect, build relationships, collaborate more effectively and eventually do our jobs better. The Web as an enabler – a very powerful enabler, reflecting a fundamental shift in terms of how we would get our work done, how critical remote, virtual collaboration would become over the course of time. How hoarding and protecting your own knowledge would be very limited in the long run. And, instead, how sharing it openly and transparently, through the (Social) Web, would give us an opportunity to change how the business world works – and for that matter, society as a whole.
During those early years, as I got more heavily involved with wikis, profile aggregators, blogs, social bookmarks, file sharing, podcasting, tagging, messaging, and various other key elements from the so-called Web 2.0, I continued to nurture the excitement of how technology would have a much more significant impact than anything we may have witnessed over the course of the last few centuries. And so I became a Social Computing Evangelist.
It’s not an easy task to help people understand how they can benefit from the Web, especially all the various social networking tools, but I have learned over the course of time that the job of a social computing evangelist becomes a whole lot easier when you practice what you preach. That’s essentially when people will start noticing the potential impact of the Web, when they can see it working in real day-to-day work interactions not just for the benefit of a few, but for everyone. That’s why, after years of evangelising about the enabling capabilities of the Social Web, I decided to take things to the next level and make it an integral part of my work and personal lives.
Email has been with us for over 40 years, and most people would probably tell you they couldn’t live without it. It’s become so integral to how we share information, stay in touch, get work done, etc. that to imagine a world without email would be probably more of a nightmare than anything else. Well, that’s exactly what I did – I not only imagined a world without email, I lived in it!
In February 2008, after 8 years of evangelising about the power of social networking, both in a work and life context, I decided it was a good time to put my actions where my words were. To help demonstrate what the Social Web was capable of, I decided to tell the whole world that I would no longer use email in a corporate environment to get work done and collaborate with my peers. It was pretty much like that already in my personal life, where the vast majority of my interactions happened through the Web, so I figured I might as well give it a try at work and see how it would play out.
Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. You know, “How are you going to survive in a large corporate environment without using email?” they would say. “There is a great chance that you would end up getting fired if you continue pursuing that unrealistic idea,” they added. Yet I was convinced more than ever that the move would open the door to a new reality of sharing, caring, and helping one another, which is essentially what the Social Web has been enabling all along. And as stubborn as I am, I decided to continue pulling it off to see where it would take me.
Initially, plenty of people thought that I just wanted to kill email, ban it for good, get rid of it, annihilate it from the corporate workplace. I must confess that back then I too had those thoughts. However, things didn’t work out that way. Throughout all of those years of living a “Life Without Email” I realised that I didn’t want to kill the tool, or the system. I just wanted to improve the way we work together, as a team, as a network, as a community. And that’s when it all turned into helping people understand how this movement I founded over 6 years ago had then a single premise: open up to a new world of interactions, of connections, of serendipitous knowledge discoveries that, sooner or later, would affect the way we work and eventually become the new norm: an interconnected, hypernetworked (business) world.
The Web is a wonderful thing, especially the Social Web. We owe a great deal to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for helping change our lives forever. Indeed, all of these social media capabilities have helped us generate that conscious collective knowledge of wanting to do wonderful things, of repurposing and creating a new meaning for what we do with our daily lives: connectedness. It’s developed an ability to regenerate our empathy by caring and helping one another that we humans can’t just deny, neglect or ignore. We have been born with an innate urge to help each other when in need. It’s in our genes. Part of our DNA, our social fabric.
And that’s what makes the Web so special. It’s got that ability to help us humanise ourselves, to remind us all tof our ability to connect, share and build relationships with others no matter where they may be in this world. And that’s exactly the journey I started over 17 years ago, a journey that has proved how an initial dislike of technology (from my high school years) can turn itself into an unprecedented love of technology. The Web is helping us regain our very own sense of humanity: that of belonging to the group, our tribe. The one with which we can make the world a better place. One human at a time. Not just for us, or our children, but for our children’s children.
That’s the legacy the Web will be leaving behind. That’s our legacy: leave this world a better place than we found it. The Internet is us, we are the Internet. And all of that, without using a single email but through the power of the Connected, Social Web.
Hello, my name is Luis Suarez, a.k.a. @elsua. I am one of the billions of netizens out there… Are we connected yet?
Luis Suarez is a Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social/Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience in knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business. He has been living for the last 6 years a corporate world without email, challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He currently blogs at elsua.net and can be contacted on Twitter at @elsua.