I went to Forward ’09: Brandologie conference a few weeks ago and so many things came up for me as I listened, watched and participated. First, I decided to try out “tweeting” during the conference. I shared various interesting points made by speakers plus my own reflections as they arose during the talks. It was fun, in a sort of “part of the in-crowd way” because there were a relatively small number of us tweeting the conference real-time. But frankly, when I look back on the experience, I didn’t engage with the content the most useful and meaningful way. I was stuck in “twitterthink” (have I just coined a new term?! More on Twitterthink for another post) where I spent too much time thinking of how I might (eloquently, no less) tweet the latest cool idea I heard. Which means I missed whatever cool ideas followed that. Plus, really, I wasn’t connecting with the speaker the same way – or the people at my table.

During the conference there were a few speakers who were touting the idea that we are moving from a “me” to a “we” culture with all this social media stuff. I get why they are saying that. After all, good blogs build “communities” of commenters who both respond to the blogger but also converse with each other. Twitter has all the @reply stuff plus the coveted RT (retweet). LinkedIn is built on “connections” between people. But here’s the thing: much of the time, it doesn’t FEEL like we are moving from a “me” to a “we” culture. Why is that?

I’m thinking it has a lot to do with this social media stuff and how it gets used. First off – I believe there are ways to use social media to encourage real human connection. There is potential for interaction, concern, follow up, assistance, and lovely little compliments. That’s some good stuff. I’m just sayin’ – lots of social media does not feel that way.

So, it was very cool when Keith Gerr of Opus Creative asked the gorgeous question during the “cage fight” style debate: Are we really moving from this “me” to “we” culture? (Then followed with, “I’m not sure I buy it.”) I felt this sudden huge release of my unknown held breath then noticed a scattering of emphatically nodding heads throughout the keynote audience.

The sudience and expert panel response was mixed and slightly unsatisfying, I think because the conference was virtually over and everyone was ready to grab a drink and mingle (or, in my case, sit quietly and listen to the beautiful sound of The Love Band.) Some people insisted that all this collectiveness really is manifesting in more we-ness, others had a sort-of uncomfortable, contemplative look with no verbal response (is it possible they never thought about it before?), and one young woman (a member of the supposedly uber-collective Gen Y, no less) referred to the book Generation Me and argued against the big collective group hug that the previous Gen Xers (or maybe Boomers – hell, I don’t know) who were speaking were painting.

I had a lovely if-but-short conversation with Keith Gerr afterward, trying to assuage my strong urge to have contributed to the conversation that ended just shy of my raising my hand for input. What we landed on (or my version of what we landed on) was this: yes, maybe people are “collecting” in various ways on social media and that’s fine. It’s good. I like that about social media. It’s good for marketing. It’s good for testing ideas. It’s good for getting tips. It’s good for self-expression (and I’m a HUGE fan of that!). But let’s face it, all this technological gathering isn’t necessarily increasing the amount of human love and compassion in our world. I guess that’s what bugs me about all this “we” talk. I feel like it’s insinuating that we are more loving and compassionate with one another as a result. And that, I’m really not so sure of.

So, I’m thinking we should start a project called Compassion 2.0 and really see what all this collecting and gathering can make happen.