Friday, 28 December 2012

What would Idries Shah think of social media?

Someone across at Idries Shah's Facebook page recently asked what the late writer and thinker would have made of social media like Facebook.

I'm sure Shah would have had many things to say about on-line social networking: some rather positive about the way the internet can bring people together from far-flung places and help disseminate information (as well as misinformation and disinformation), and doubtless he'd also make some rather astute and less complimentary observations.

I wouldn't like to second guess the man, however, but there are some things in our own fields of expertise that we are perfectly capable of working out for ourselves. We don't need to be advanced Sufi mystics to ask ourselves why, for example, over 900,000 people at Facebook would fall for a scam like the R.I.P. Morgan Freeman Facebook page and not bother to check reliable sources elsewhere to find that the actor is in reality still very much alive; or – better still – why we might have fallen for such a patent falsehood. Or why, in their wisdom, Facebook has still not deleted the page, in spite of thousands of Facebook users reporting it as a distasteful scam. Perhaps because the inalienable constitutional right to free speech outweighs harm done or outweighs the simple common sense that we were once born with?

Anyhow, shortly after that question was posted, someone followed me across at Twitter, and rather than simply click to follow them back, I had a look at their public profile.

What I found was that this person, an alleged special needs teacher, has over three times more followers at Twitter than Idries Shah. Not bad going for someone who has not posted a single tweet, nor a single retweet in appreciation of others; whilst @IdriesShah – a special needs teacher himself, you might say – has posted hundreds of quotes containing precious snippets of wisdom. I suspect that the first account is just there to send out direct spam messages in auto-greeting to new followers.

My curiosity aroused, I checked out messages that this person had received, to find a whole stream of thank you messages such as Thanks for following. Really appreciate it. Nice getting to know you. Merry Christmas! and even a few #FF (follow Friday) posts from his followers, encouraging others to follow this person.

"Nice getting to know you?" Come on: this person has not uttered a single word and his profile consists of just three words: special needs teacher.

As well as making a mockery of the robotic machinations of sites like twitter, that's quite a humbling thought, really: to think that this person's silence and near-total lack of real effort is as effective as one's own prolific and occasionally frenzied social networking activity.

Of course, there are self-appointed social media gurus who advocate following others in their droves and gradually building up a following of hundreds of thousands, trusting that most will automatically follow you back and dumping those who don't, and that – like spam – there will always be a small percentage of this random selection of people, perhaps one percent, who will be interested in buying your wares (the very opposite of Shah's approach, by the way). But to me, that is not the way to go. It ought to be about quality rather than quantity, and about building relationships rather than a clientele, of course, and it's far better to have ten good friends than ten thousand – or even 250,000 – vaguely interested followers ... but you get the picture.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+


  1. “Social media is changing the rules. Paradoxically, it is teaching us that we need more time to think – and space in which to be serious.”
    James Faint

  2. Thank you Eric, I am well. I glanced over the whole blog and saw this.
    The immediacy of social media can sometimes elicit first reactions which restrains any considered dialogue.
    James Faint