this interview originally appeared on SayDaily, a fun bonus to being inducted into the SAY:100 list of technology thought leaders & influencers! Thank you Say Media!


How is social media changing the way we communicate, create and buy things? That’s a question Venessa Miemis thinks about all the time. Venessa’s passion is studying the co-evolution of humanity and our technologies – especially social ones. Or as she puts it, she’s “scouting the edges of technology and innovation, right where the magic happens.” As a Master’s student she studied how people are using the Web and peer-to-peer technology to more effectively self-organize, collaborate, build community, and accelerate social innovation. She recently completed the Kickstarter-funded The Future of Facebook project, a 6-part video series “exploring the impact social networking technologies are having on our lives” where she interviewed everyone from David Armano of Edelman, to cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, to futurists Howard Rheingold and Douglas Rushkoff. Her blog Emergent by Design continues her thoughtful analysis of the latest social media trends. 

A recent inductee into the SAY 100 technology channel, we checked in with this super-smart social thinker about the trends in social media she’s watching – and what happens as social innovation accelerates.

Give us an example of some positive changes social media has had on human behavior? How about some negative changes? I think social media gives us a chance to share our joys, desires and fears with each other, which for me is the juicy stuff of life. It allows us to experience ourselves as an interconnected humanity, instead of a fractured set of groups divided by labels or nations. When we choose to view the world like that, it changes the narrative about what we are and why we’re here. The hope is that we might then act in ways that are a bit more kind and forgiving, both to others and to ourselves. We’re all in this together, after all. On the flipside are the same dangers associated with any media technology – pushing agendas, propaganda, self-congratulatory echo chambers. Anyone with an internet connection now has a voice, and with enough influence and attention, the power to shape public thought and our collective story.

What did you learn in nutshell on your Facebook project: Is Facebook a Liberator or The Man? I support technologies that promote autonomy, agency, and human freedom. By that I mean that the people are in control of their tools, and the tools have a bias towards things like learning, creativity, engagement, and production. What role does Facebook play in that?

Your graduate work focused on trust-building, generative dialogue, and open collaboration in networked environments. What were some of your most interesting findings that anyone can apply to their lives or business? Your tribe is waiting for you. If you’re willing to take the risk of putting yourself out there, being open and vulnerable, curious and humble, you will be rewarded with a community that will support you and help you grow.

What are some of the most interesting new ways you’re seeing people using the Web and peer-to-peer technology to more effectively self-organize and accelerate social innovation? My notion of what “social innovation” tends to mean different things at different times. Currently, I’d say it’s about a cultural shift in the shared attitudes, values, goals and practices of a hyperconnected humanity.

That said, the most interesting things to me right now are not so much the technologies of hardware and software, but of the mind and heart. I see people becoming more clear about what they fundamentally want from life, learning to express those things with clarity, and then aligning with others who want similar things and are willing and able to help each other accomplish them. So, we use these p2p tools to find each other, and then once connected, we can experiment with new modes of life, work and play.

You’re a proponent of developing new anticipatory processes for societal transformation. Can you give an example of how that might work? It seems that people are becoming much more intentional about the process of manifestation.  As an individual, if I’m interested in personal transformation, I ask myself what I want, commit to that, and begin moving in that direction. When a bunch of people start doing that together, in some kind of values-based alignment, we might experience societal transformation. So I suppose it starts with us asking ourselves a collective question: “What do we want?”

You’ve said that if we don’t change the way we behave on this planet we may not be around. Are you an optimist or pessimist – and why? Neither – I’m only curious. I certainly have a vision of a cooperative and wise world, and do what I can to make that a reality through my own behavior. But it seems technologies will continue to accelerate faster than we can assimilate them in healthy, life-affirming ways. So we’ll just have to watch and see. Our tools are raising awareness of their awareness. We probably should be doing the same.

What other trends in social media are you watching closely right now? I’m very excited by the disruptive potential implied by the rapid diffusion of innovations, especially organizational and cultural ones. People are learning how to do more, better, with less. And I’m not referring to mechanistic efficiency. I’m talking about people learning to leverage their talents and gifts better in groups and on teams. Increasing self-awareness, strengthening communication and interpersonal relationship, making decisions and executing upon them together … I see the big challenge in many of the problems we face as being associated with our ability to learn, adapt, and coordinate action.

Who influences you? Which future watchers do you follow and whyWith iterative cycles of development and change constantly being shortened, I’m finding myself less interested in the future watchers and more interested in the future makers. There are people popping up everywhere who aren’t waiting to ask permission, and are just out there hacking reality now. That’s been much more inspiring for me than imagining what might happen in 50 years.

What’s the Holy Grail for someone in your line of work? How do you know when you’re making progress? Stay curious and ride the edge! When I start feeling bored, that tells me I must be getting boring. I set aside my kool aid, critically evaluate how I think and feel about things, and then challenge that by bringing in new information that will give me a fresh perspective. Progress for me is about continuous improvement and the expansion of human capacity. I look to how our tools and technologies are facilitating that externally in the world, and also reflect upon how we do it internally as we consciously develop ourselves.

Follow Venessa on Twitter @venessamiemis.