How To Give a Fish Legs

Has anyone stopped to consider that maybe the reason there’s a social media fishbowl is because nobody ever thinks to look outside of it?

I had an experience last week that made me think much differently about fishbowls (a.k.a. echo chambers) and the detrimental effects of spending too much time inside them.

A few years ago, one of our work projects came up against a technical challenge that appeared to only have one solution. We went with that solution, and although it was expensive, it seemed to be the only way to do things. At the time, it had not occurred to us that there was another way, because all of the people involved in solving the problem had reached the same conclusion – that the expensive solution was the only way.

A few days ago, the technical challenge was revisited, and someone else was brought into the mix for their opinion. They looked at the situation, and almost immediately said, “Well, you know, if you did X, it would work just as well.” This was a solution that was going to use far less manpower and did not carry even close to the same expense. It’s a solution that would have worked 3 years ago just as well as today, and it would have saved countless hours and a fair amount of cash as well.

The mistake? The person who came up with the cheaper solution was around 3 years ago too, but nobody bothered to ask him. Even though he is an expert with a respected opinion on such matters, he existed outside of our fishbowl at that time. It’s not that we didn’t want to ask him, it’s that he wasn’t directly in front of us at that moment. Had we thought to seek out outside opinions, perhaps it would have occurred to us to simply ask him for his. But we didn’t, and it cost us.

The problem with being trapped inside a fishbowl is that fish don’t have legs. They just swim round and round, seeing the same things over and over again – same fish, same plants, same pirate ship. Their world exists in this tiny environment and they can’t crawl out of it, because they have no legs (well yah, and they can’t breathe in air, but that’s another post. ; )

The fishbowl is one of the reasons I decided to take a step back from writing about social media. Ironically it’s also the reason I’ve hopped back in to the conversation. This social media love-in, guru-worshipping bullcrap has got to stop. It’s reached unhealthy levels. When I read the blog of an A-lister and 68 of the 72 comments on it are “Great post!” or “I love everything you write!”, that’s the fishbowl talking. It adds no value, and I would suspect, after a while, it makes some of the blog authors a bit tired too.

Lucky for us, we’re not fish. We can climb out of the fishbowl whenever we want to, it’s just that many of us choose not to. It’s comfy in here, right? We can tell others inside the bowl how great their blog posts are, without having to spend any time figuring out if we actually share their opinion, or if we have a different perspective to offer. We can swim around in ignorant bliss, flitting from shiny object to shiny object but never taking the time to lend critical thought to the conversation.

Without critical thought, we run the risk of the same thing happening that happened to my team during our technical challenge. We become unable to see that there might be a different way to do things. When we’re all busy patting each other on the back, we’re not looking around at others. We’re not asking the guy or gal who might just have a new way of looking at it all.

Grow some legs. Climb out of the fishbowl. Look around at others who might be offering something different, and raise them up for a while. Or better yet, offer your perspective on what they’re saying – disagree, even.

Critical thought moves conversations forward, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this one to start taking a new direction.

Who’s with me? Who’s against me?

Oh, and new rule – no saying “great post” in comments, ok? : )

[photo credit: benson kua on Flickr]

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  • November 22, 2010 at 7:21 am

    GREAT post. I love EVERYTHING you write. ;-P

    More seriously, I find the “accelerated bandwagon effect” (did I come up with that phrase? If so, DIBS) online really interesting. Think about the “viral video”, such as United Breaks Guitars. Or the 4chan phenomenon. Or the worship of online thinkers, and sometimes the sudden UNworship of those same people.

    I think there are two things here: the public nature of the “worship” (in the past, if I wanted to brownnose someone it was more or less private), and the ability to write a worshipful sentence in 30 seconds.

    • November 22, 2010 at 7:25 am

      I’m waiting for your next post called “The Accelerated Bandwagon Effect”, Bob. Hop to it!

  • November 22, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I’m not so sure blog authors do get tired of it. At least not all of them. When you look at what a lot of them are writing, they’re writing posts that are pretty hard to argue with.

    Posts that make truly controversial or even conversationable (see Bob, I can coin phrases too!) arguments are few and far between. Instead it’s all “10 reasons you need to consider X” garbage or simply straw man arguments that anyone can agree with. Except the straw man. Poor little guy.

    A lot of the a-listers seem content to keep their circles of followers and generally not rock the boat. Tautologies have replaced arguments.

    • November 22, 2010 at 7:39 am

      Sometimes it’s not even about disagreement, but offering a perspective, or a personal story that adds to the conversation. It’s not unlike sitting across from the table from someone, they tell you a story, you tell them a story that relates, and so on. I’m not out to be controversial around here. Some are, and that’s their prerogative. I just want to hear what you think. And you’ve told me what you think. So everyone wins!

  • November 22, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I am wondering if this is what I am experiencing over in the foodie blog world. A desire for a certain kind of cozy. A certain level of chummy. Do not want to risk offending. My recent post asking to engage in dialogue has had many hits and many private discussions but alas the comments section remains virtually untouched. Am I to think there is a dead moose under our foodie table? Perhaps we are just an incestuous lot.

  • November 22, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Yep. I remember the time that I was trying to understand a family health issue and so I mentioned it to a few friends. One of them offered to help me think. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, how much help can come in an online conversation? I mean, don’t you have to be in the same room to give the kind of presence that we think we need?

    But then, when she offered again, I decided to talk about my concerns. Kind of like you did with the project. And it turns out that she understands quite well and is able to give me perspective that is helping immensely.

    I think that if we aren’t just doing lists, if we are being people who are talking about things that matter, sometimes the people part leaks through.

    • November 22, 2010 at 10:23 am

      And people talking about the things that matter to US. Not talking about things just because everyone else is, or because it’s an easy way to get traffic. Right?

      • November 22, 2010 at 11:21 am


  • November 22, 2010 at 9:48 am

    I never pay much attention to so called a-listers. I just like to read interesting ideas and different perspectives. There’s so many ‘gurus’ piling into the market now, can the ‘a-lister’ concept really survive?

    • November 22, 2010 at 10:21 am

      Oh, I think there will always be A Listers in any media. People are easily won over by the draw of “celebrity” (or “welebrity”, as I like to call it). It doesn’t matter whether the object of peoples’ attention is a movie star or Internet Famous…people often just want to connect with people because they’re popular.

      Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to decide where they spend their time and effort.

  • November 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    “Grow some legs.”

    Or some other appendages that generally dangle around the anterior end of animals…because it takes those to write something that others can actually contradict or disagree with.

    The potential for different viewpoints is where the really juicy conversations live. That’s why so much of the social media blogosphere is as dry as plain white toast, fishbowl hydration or not.

    Here’s a rule of thumb: if it’s a struggle to come up with a response other than. “Yeah, I totally agree” to every post, you may want to rethink the whole “thought leader” label for the blogger in question.

    I agree with Joe that the people who are courting 70 or 80 “You’re so awesum!” comments know exactly what they’re doing, and are getting exactly what they decided to go after.

    Then again, I’m in a particularly curmudgeonly mood today.

    • November 23, 2010 at 8:04 am

      I like your curmudgeonliness (yes that’s a word), Kat!

  • November 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Honestly, I’m so tired of social media talk for this very reason, I’ve stopped talking about it too – except for the odd thing. (Like today, my post about all the “must do” and “need to” headlines – or Kat’s post about Facebook “likes” etc.).

    I don’t have a link before me, but I’ve seen articles about the brain and how one of the best ways to keep it making connections and not calcifying is to encounter opinions contrary to your own. It makes sense; it makes you have to see things in new ways, even if you resist them.

    What would happen if we all started asking, “What if social media is a waste of time and money?” This doesn’t mean it is. But to wrestle with the question you have to step out of the fishbowl and start seeing again. Just a thought. πŸ™‚

  • November 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    So glad you’re back to blogging the thoughts swirling around in that wondrous mind of yours!

    Growing legs and peeking into other fish bowls or the open waters for inspiration is ever so important. And, it is so very easy that it is difficult.

    If I had kept to my fish bowl, I’d be writing about the technology and its effect on the post-post-modern self, mostly from an arm-chair perspective.

    Instead, flipperless, I jumped into another fish bowl, using the technology I would have written about on a completely different subject. The appreciation I have gained from doing so has been priceless.

    Insight is insight and people should not only be open minded about looking elsewhere for it. You need also be accepting of new ideas when they present themselves.

    • November 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

      Thanks, Don! Here’s to the flipperless! πŸ™‚

  • […] Susan was questioning our ability to see how things really are when we’re swimming in a social media fishbowl. Her post was called, How To Give a Fish Legs. […]



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