Hugh MacLeod, Gaping Void, Cartoons, and Social Objects

Hugh McLeod runs a site called Gaping Void where he posts (occasionally NSFW) cartoons drawn on the back of business cards and discusses social media, the web, and a few other marketing projects.

I’ve become interested in his take on what he refers to as “social objects” (and defines in depth as “sharing devices.”) These are the things social networks are built around.

He posts his cartoons as hi-res downloads that are free to use for personal use, and they make the perfect case study of the social object theory.

As a “Social Object”, a cartoon that one can actually print out and hang on their cube wall, or put on a t-shirt, a business card etc is far more powerful and useful than say, YET ONE MORE IMAGE you can find on the internet and e-mail en masse to your friends.
Free Cartoons as Social Objects

He goes on to discuss that this sort of open policy makes him money “indirectly” by connecting him with other people/organizations and building relationships around these social objects.

I don’t create the online cartoons as “products” to be sold. I create the cartoons as “Social Objects”, i.e. “Sharing Devices” that help me to build relationships with. As with all things, the REAL value comes from the human relationships that are built AROUND the social object, not the object in itself.

I think we make the mistake of believing our [product, service, message, church, cause, etc.] is intrinsically valuable and will therefor spread because of its internally-perceived awesomeness. “Well, WE think it’s important, therefor anyone smart will too, right?” 

But things aren’t valuable. At least not in a sustainable sense. Everything depreciates, everything becomes irrelevant over time. No matter what we do, if we want it to last, to have impact and meaning, we need to admit that the human interaction(s) that organically occur around shared experiences are VASTLY more important than any thing we create. 

If it can’t be shared, if socialization can’t happen around it, then why bother?