People working in the field of social media bear a particular responsibility for imagining, interrogating and forming this new world that is just beginning, for what use is our insatiable appetite for connectivity, our constant embrace of new tools, our perpetually self-reflecting conversation, if not for the job of shaping this new world with some degree of insight and deliberateness. – Alexandra Samuel
The insight and deliberateness Alexandra Samuel refers to includes: fostering trust, sparking creativity and nurturing civic engagement. While not ignoring or undermining our face to face, up close and personal relationships, she envisions and realizes the internet’s potential to strengthen our communities and our democracy. Unlike the founders of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, business doesn’t come first to her. It is a subservient goal to Alexandra’s commitment to a just and equitable society.
Alex is an original, one of the few genuine pioneers you’ll likely ever meet. Her 2004 Harvard doctoral dissertation studied on-line political engagement including the phenomenon of ‘hacktivism’ – hacking or breaking into a computer system for political, ideological and social causes.
She was Research Director for a consortium of twenty governments and businesses from around the world to create and guide an investigation into the future of government and democracy. Previously, she researched the online version of ‘social capital’ for Robert Putnam's ground breaking book Bowling Alone a revealing perspective on the decline, rise and importance of personal connections and community life.
She uses her world -class expertise on social media and on- line participation to transform work, politics and personal relationships. Unlike activists and advocates of the past who only played in one ‘arena,’ she takes a 'beyond borders' approach to change – the personal is political; the political is vocational; the vocational is political.
Accordingly, she is equally comfortable blogging for Oprah.com and the Harvard Business Review. Simultaneously she is founding Director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and a Principal with her husband and business partner Rob Cottingham of their Vancouver based social media agency, Social Signal. She and Rob have been blogging since the beginning of time (for bloggers that is). Those five years make them pioneers and Social Signal may possibly be the world’s oldest social media agency.
To our collective benefit, Alexandra is prepared to encounter the banalities and excesses of pop culture, social media and technology. She does that with enthusiasm, perspective, and insight. Since most of us use computers and cell phones and their related technologies and devices, we are fortunate to have someone with her eyes wide open interpreting, brokering, advising and coaching us.
However her work is more than just explaining the newest, hottest and juiciest. She wants to make us shrewder and more discerning about which technology to use; to foster trust; and to deepen our personal relationships and social interactions. She and Rob’s desire for big impact change has led them to: pioneer strategies for on line engagement, dialogue, advocacy and campaigning; and to conceptualize the use of the web to strengthen our personal relationships (they were key advisors to Vickie Cammack as Tyze was being born, www.tyze.com).
Alexandra is a charter member of an expanding group of social innovators who address issues at the structural and cultural level, yanking the agenda away from the traditional political and media elites while simultaneously broadening the base of supporters. With that talent, experience and insight we should be grateful she is on our side.
NOTE: This is the second in a series on the 'promise' of the internet to nurture creativity and enable collaboration toward a more just society. Part One can be accessed here.
For those interested in Alexandra's comparison of the movie, The Social Network with Singing in The Rain click here.