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Social Media – A Double-Edged Sword

Permaculture calls for us to care for the earth, care for each other and share our resources. In an ideal permaculture world, we would all pull together in a collaborative search for nature-inspired solutions to global problems.

Social media has the potential to help us do just that.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram are all found on the world wide web and accessed through phones, tablets and computers. It is interesting that the metaphor of the web has been used to describe the technology that proves that we are indeed all connected. Designs inspired by nature?

Social Media offers us many tools to facilitate both local and global permaculture initiatives. But like any other tool in your shed, it can be used wisely or unwisely to create or destroy. It’s how you use the tool that makes the difference.

Is there really a place for social media in permaculture design?

I know that the idea of social media does not appeal to every permaculuturist and whilst some are simply not interested, others are definitely against it. I have heard some people blame the internet for social ills such as disconnection from nature, the loss of traditional and land based skills, the breakdown of social groups and the demise of local shopping.

However, I would say, that this is precisely why it needs to be part of the solution.

When we work with nature instead of trying to impose our will, the solution is often found within the problem. — Holmgren, 2002

So here are some examples of how social media can be used to remedy some of the world’s problems and help us to join together as a community.

Staying positive

There are a lot of really horrible things happening in the world right now and the news is full of atrocities. Personally, I choose not to watch the news, not because I want to bury my head in the sand, but because it fills me with despair and stops me from feeling hopeful. Instead, I create my own news with daily searches for permaculture initiatives that are happening all around the world. Social media allows me to both observe what is happening and to interact with all kinds of really inspiring people. Some of my favourites include the Earthship Movement, PIP, The Formidable Vegetables and Patrick Whitefield, to name but a few. Choosing to focus on positive things, new initiatives and heart-warming stories is the same principle as mulching and dense planting to suppress the weeds.

Russell Brand may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is challenging the stories that are broadcast from mainstream news channels and inviting his huge social media following to question the status quo too. Powerful stuff.

WWOOFing organisation

Willing Workers On Organic Farms is a quickly growing movement and the internet is allowing WWOOFers to easily find farms and vice versa. It is a fantastic way to spread ideas and skills from farm to farm and country to country. Social media helps people to find opportunities and then share their WWOOFing experiences with family and friends in real time. Photos, videos and status updates get shared even further and the message is rippling out.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly popular way to make eco-projects happen. It is a powerful way for people to vote with their feet at a time in history when people are choosing not to vote at the ballot box. We can easily fund new inventions, books, farms, get equipment, adopt animals — the sky is literally the limit. Although crowdfunding projects are generally promoted online, people who don’t even own a computer can also contribute. Social media helps to spread the word and gather momentum.

Share how-tos, recipes and information

How many permaculturists head for the keyboard in summer and Google ‘courgette recipes’ hoping to find interesting new ways to disguise the rampant squash? Or perhaps you Google ‘what to make with apples, kale, beetroot and onions’ or whatever other combinations of food that are available at any one point in the growing season. The internet is full of tips for growing, cooking, preserving and storing food. There are so many ideas about what to do with pallets, places to find free and secondhand stuff, informational videos and step-by-step instructions.

Sharing events

Social media becomes very multi-functional when used to share events.

It can be used to:

  • Broadcast the event
  • Find other people and organisations who might want to come
  • Ask friends to share with their friends
  • Create interesting articles about the event that can be used as blog posts and handouts or even appear in permaculture magazines or websites such as PermacultureNews.org. The articles leave a lasting reference and become part of your story and your archives.
  • Photos taken during the event can be shared by the attendees and inspire people to attend future events.
  • Photos can be used in future marketing.
  • Even if we are exploring ways to operate outside of the cash economy, most of us still need money to pay for essentials now. Trainings, workshops and events can help to fund projects and provide some cashflow at the same time as up-skilling others.
  • Social media will help you develop a reputation for whatever it is that you are offering.

Save time

Social media can be a time waster, that is undisputed. However, it can also be a time saver if used with discipline and strategy and if content that is created gets used more than once.

Create opportunities and find new people

It never fails to amaze me how the right people find each other through social networks. Most of my paid work comes through Facebook and Twitter and the subsequent offline spin-offs.

Local permaculture projects can use Twitter and Facebook as a way to attract new people to join and attend events. One post or tweet can keep lots of people in the loop with what is going on and drip feeds information to people who may take some time to pluck up the courage to join in.

Sharing seeds

The internet will play a crucial role in helping us to share heritage and non-GM seeds now and in the future. There are seed swapping websites available and people who are offering good quality seeds and plants for sale. Information is easily searchable about plants you have not grown before.

Local seed swap groups abound on Facebook and people organise seed swapping events using Facebook event pages.

As the climate changes and we all have to learn about what grows well in our neighbouring zones and how we can adapt, social media can help us communicate with the right people and share appropriate seeds.

There are many other ways that social media can be used to grow the permaculture movement, but the important thing to remember is that it is only just a tool. It is a powerful tool that we can use to inspire, educate, motivate, inform and connect.

Having extolled the virtues of digital media, it is important to remember that it needs to be balanced with real life and does not replace or equate to actual physical human connection. It’s just a vehicle to get us there.

4 Comments

  1. All good points made. I wish there was a way to bind people who say they will attend an Event to actually carry through…. too easy to make a false commitment on social media

  2. I use Meetup.com (an in person social site used to schedule events) to organize my Food Not Lawns group. I find it has a stronger commitment ratio than Facebook as it has reminders and works with ones calendar better.

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