Social Media and the Gruen Transfer

More and more lately I think of social media, of the vast array of social media tools and of a concept called the Gruen Transfer. If you aren’t familiar with the Gruen Transfer, it is a term coined to reflect that slack jawed, trance-like consumer state that people go into when they enter places like shopping malls or Las Vegas. It is caused by the sensory deprivation and sensory engineering that occurs in that kind of false environment of consumerism (aka “scripted disorientation”). It is the physical manifestation of option overload, if you will. A simplistic definition, true, but you can easily search the internet for the concept to find out a more comprehensive definition.

How does the Gruen Transfer apply to social media? In two ways, I think. The first is the moment a new social media user sees the vast array of tools and techniques out there. It’s simply overwhelming, a kind of constant information dump. This combination of information flow and disorientation causes the social media version of the Gruen Transfer, and can make people susceptible to a wide variety of unsavory choices and potential bad decisions. Luckily the vast majority of people who use the tools are willing to share their knowledge and be helpful, which helps many avoid common pitfalls and choose the best tools to navigate the space (as an example: think of Friendster as the social media equivalent of that teal sequined shirt your best friend talked you out of at the mall).

The second way the Gruen Transfer applies to social media is seen in the rise of the new social media sales force. This encompasses not just those who use social media to market businesses and brands, or those who teach social media, but the very same people who would finance things like shopping malls and Vegas casino construction. This new untapped frontier is, to a certain type of person, ripe for social engineering on a grand scale.

This type of thing fascinates me. I’ve been doing some digging to see if research has been done to help consumers combat the Gruen Transfer effectively. If I can find reliable research, or someone who is actively conducting this research, it could help stem the tide of the social media sphere becoming just another shopping mall, slash and burn mentality and foster a continuance of true community, as well as reduce the drop off rate in social media use that it causes. It could also help foster this new economy that is trying to hard to grow and be different, because a true collaborative economy and a shopping mall-straight consumption economy can’t effectively coexist.

I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter, and to be pointed to someone doing great research in the topic.

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