Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Social Media's Terrible Twos?

The social media are still coming out of infancy.

Think back for a bit. It wasn't that long ago that we were pre-facebook, pre-twitter... hell, I can even remember a world that was pre-blog, but maybe that makes me old.  ;)

I have fond memories of the early days of the internet. Text-only browsers (lynx!) and telnet and email all seemed so cutting edge back when we used modems and counted our bauds. For me, the heyday was usenet -- wow, those were exciting (and contentious!) times. But that was back when most people didn't even know the internet existed. It was an infancy.

Now we're in what I hope we'll look back on as the Terrible Twos of the Internet. A weepy, drama filled, tantrum-throwing era that is custom-made for the narcissists and attention-seekers out there, but a bit tedious for the grownups amongst us.

Keera and I have been discussing the social media privately and seem to be in general agreement when it comes to technology and the social world. It makes sense, as we're about the same age and we both came to the internet at about the same point in time (in fact, we first met back in the heyday of usenet!).

But little did we know that a whole other generation of users -- those who never knew a world without the internet -- was also arriving at the same conclusion: that the illusion of social media is that it is social.
I find myself nostalgic for the internet of the 1990s, when it was all message boards and IRC chats and real conversations. Sure, you might never meet the person at the other end of your modem connection, but you did forge real relationships.
We've reached a point where the internet can make one feel lonely in a crowded room.
The way the internet helped me feed and nourish my friendships eight years ago has fallen by the wayside, and has been replaced with something superficial and competitive. It actually enhances my loneliness.
We've somehow arrived at a place where our online interplay resembles the parallel play of toddlers. There is no real interaction -- only simultaneous activity. I think we can move past this stage, into a truly interactive, mutually supportive environment. I'm not sure where this might happen. My current favorite is still the blog (as you can see!), but I'm open to other possibilities. However, I'm very much hesitant  to embrace the broadcast media (facebook, twitter and the like) as the panacea we need. I think some further development is in order...

What do you think? Where is your favorite place on the internet at the moment?


Keera Ann Fox said...

Gah, my favorite place is not my poor neglected web site, but thanks for the linkage!

Your last paragraph is most intriguing. How does the post-Usenet generation feel? The ones that like Twitter and Facebook because it fits the format of smartphone screens? (Or because that's what comes pre-installed on said smartphones.) From what I have read, most young folks on Facebook are friends with people they already know in "meatspace", and so actually meet and communicate with in the flesh. Facebook is a bonus. (One of my friends said he never met anybody new on Facebook, but he did on Twitter.)

Perhaps what we "old-school" types - who typed multiple paragraphs to stranges across borders and oceans and accents and in that way learned about each other - are missing is just that: Some way to get to know people via the computer. Facebook has been claimed to be much like greeting cards: Many occasions, but always with the entertaining picture and the cheerful sentiments that are personalized, but not personal. That may be we "dinosaurs" do not feel it fits our need.

So yes, what's next? Will there be some medium that gives us interactivity and connectivity of the kind where you forge the sort of bond with each other that lets you reveal your not so good sides, too? And still get a reply - rather than unfriended?

alice said...

I think G+ has a lot of potential. It has some meeting space that can include quite a few people. And the ability to scale your audience. We'll see how that goes.

Or perhaps the issue isn't the media, but us ourselves. Perhaps we've changed in response to what surrounds us and we're no longer willing/able to make those deeper connections. Maybe we're so distracted by the internet and our phones and the tv and the pandora and the youtube and everything else, that we don't have the patience to listen to each other long enough to make a real connection.

That would kinda suck.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Oh, I think we're willing to make deep connections, but we have been given too much choice on how to do that. Economists know that if you give consumers too much choice, they won't choose. They shut down instead or stick with what they know. Limit the options and people can better select.

Offering social media the way Starbuck's offers umpteen variations of lattes and frappuccinos and roasts may actually hurt social media. MySpace's demise is said to have been due to letting people play too much with the interface; Facebook has survived because it limits what users can do.

Latest news: E-mail use is actually increasing! People still want plain coffee.

alice said...

Yep, agreed. The big hurdle that G+ will have to get over is that people don't want to deal with two facebooks. They don't want to have to check two places. But hopefully the fact the G+ is so integrated with email will help with migration. I'd much rather hang out on G+ and jettison FB completely...

Keera Ann Fox said...

I agree re two Facebooks, but I wasn't happy with Google's all-in-one, either. Log in to one Google product and you're logged in to them all, and for me that posed a lack of security and no control over visibility (that I could see).

Sometimes we need to compartmentalize. I don't want to be distracted by e-mail or Plus while I'm concentrating on a blog post, but the moment I'm logged into Blogger, I'm logged into everything else Google. We users need to be able to control our content and our connectivity.

Today's young believe you should answer every phone call because that's why you brought your cell - to be able to answer every phone call. But I still say it's my phone, and I still get to choose whether or not I answer it, no matter how mobile it is. Is there a generation gap regarding online availability or do younger users also see an advantage in being available here but not there?

alice said...

I think maybe they're better at multi-tasking that we are. Or maybe they're just more comfortable with it, whether or not they're good at it (because studies are showing that NO ONE is good at multi-tasking!).