Okay, bear with me here: a couple of decades ago, I found myself standing on the banks of the Nantahala River at the tail end of a wet spring, getting ready to climb into a canoe. I’d only been canoeing a half-dozen times or so, mostly on flat water or slow, lazy rivers. In front of me, the water was moving faster than any I’d ever seen, sucking white foam into eddies behind mammoth rocks. From downstream came the noise of a thundering waterfall. My partner was waiting for me to climb in. I did, and he pushed us off. Immediately the canoe lurched forward, as if on a rail. The river grabbed us, and propelled us forward. We steered as best we could, but there was no turning back.
When I think about social networking, I’m reminded of that feeling. The river is moving fast, and many of us in the communication business are dipping our toes in the water. Some of us have already pushed off, and are being carried downstream, navigating with varying degrees of success. Others are still on the shore, wondering a) if we really want to go where the river will lead us, or b) where the heck we’re going to use for a paddle.
There’s a certain sense of inevitability in the air. We all know how much these kinds of networks have grown, and we’ve all seen evidence of how powerful they can be. So, of course we are all tempted to jump in. After all, how long can you stand there watching your competitors barrel past you?
But before you shove off, I think it’s worth remembering that while you can guide your canoe — often quite deftly — that doesn’t mean you can go anywhere you want in it. You can’t pick a spot directly across all that white water and say “There. That’s where I’m going.” It’s just not going to happen. The current is going to pull you downstream, whether you want to go there or not.
In the end, I think it’s just like me standing on the banks of the Nantahala all those years ago. At some point, you just have to push off, hang on, and go.