At an all-day conference with a new speaker every 10 or 15 minutes, it’s hard to keep track of small details. That’s especially true with social media, when everyone in attendance is hunched over their laptops or smart phones chronicling the action in real time and trying to keep up with conversations taking place. Live-tweeting is the new multitasking.
I missed the gist of what a lot of the speakers at Wednesday’s 140 Characters Conference Detroit had to say. But the primary takeaway from the event, and from others like it that I’ve monitored via Twitter, is that at the end of the day, it really isn’t about social media.
In Detroit, at least, it’s about passion for your community, wanting to make a difference, and fostering ideas.
Social media is merely a tool to help galvanize people behind those ideas: to build momentum and learn from others.
“I think what I’ve heard are people who are driven to share a story, share an idea and hopefully inspire others to do the same,” conference organizer Jeff Pulver (@JeffPulver) said. He earlier told the audience gathered in the ornate Fillmore Theater that he wanted to bring the conference back to Detroit for a second time next year.
“Being here today was different than being in other places,” Pulver said.
The 140 Conference featured a staggeringly diverse array of speakers: real estate developers, philanthropists, journalists, entrepreneurs, clergy members, educators, marketing gurus, musicians, high-school students and others all shared the stage and told their own unique stories about how social media had opened up new possibilities in their professions.
“I am a part of the change of downtown Detroit. Blumz is one of the pretty things in the downtown city,” said J. Robbin Yelverton (@BlumzRob), owner of the flower store, which has locations in Detroit and Ferndale. He said he uses social media as a “great way of meeting and talking to brides,” who obviously buy a lot of flowers.
I can’t say whether social media in other cities takes a similarly intense community focus, but social media and Detroit are a perfect fit. The city’s ongoing abandonment (many refer to the media’s fascination with it as “ruin porn”) has sparked acute fascination from the rest of the world. And in reaction, Detroiters are taking to social media as a tool to broadcast the other side of that well-worn storyline: what they’re doing to fix the city and reverse its fabled decline.
Thus we heard from John Hammond (@Fafoutee), who is making a documentary about the “Detroit Blogger Underground” that highlights the news, entrepreneurialism, and ideas being discussed online, outside of the traditional sphere of news media.
“How can we change things, how can we create a revolution?” asked Ja-Nae Duane, (@TheSunQueen), an economist and author from Boston. She described how struck she was by meeting people from Detroit, who began their conversations with her by saying “don’t believe anything you’ve heard about the city.”
Increasingly, with social media, they won’t have to.