Several speakers at the ongoing Information Science and Social Media -- International Conference (ISSOME2011) (I am organising together with my colleagues at Åbo Akademi University) have made interesting implicit and explicit references to the notion of 'social' that are rather different from the earlier rather fuzzy references to the concept in this kind of a venue. I would like to argue that the 'social' has been used for some time as a some kind of a non-concept with a bunch of very indefinite references to participation, interaction, digitality, being together with like-minded people and so on. As a consequence, or perhaps rather in spite of the other equally non-defined slogan social media, has turned to a difficult-to-define adjective for a state of a nice and comfortable but slightly thrilling and trendy chilling around with quasi-friends.
Hazel Hall made a reference to the connotation of the 'social' in the British English language that refers to leisure and made a point of changing the attitudes that social is not necessarily a question of leisure. Lennart Björneborn made another significant point by underlining the fact that social media exists also outside the digital domain and, in fact, the digital social media does converge quite a lot with the physical environment -- not least because we happen to be very physical beings. Hanna Carlsson described her research method and made a further point by emphasising the need to look at the social media in both digital and physical domains. Leif Kajberg made yet another extension to sociality to the direction of activism and participatory democracy.
Somehow it seems to me that this sublime change of emphasis can be quite promising, at least from an academic point of view. The social is getting new (and old) connotations that are considerably more meaningful than the rather unmeaningful references to the 'social' in social media debate. At the same time, another important move is the one made by the speakers to go after the social (social media) and its implications and to look at these things from an information point of view in the contexts outside the somehow self-serving context of socialmediasphere. I would be inclined to argue (or I would like to see perhaps) that the fuzzy social of social media, or the equally fuzzy social media itself, are about to become meaningful entities because of these kinds of observations. The social media is not about digital services or the media, but about the motivations and context in which we and other people are using (and using, not just testing) these tools and the impact they have on our lives.
(The papers of the presenters are available at http://issome2011.library2pointoh.fi/index.php/programme/)