The Anti-Social, Social Network
Are you tired of "being social"?
I'm not talking about real-life dinners with friends, cocktail parties, or weekend tennis. I'm referring to reading the faux news of your friends, or worse, "friends," instead of sharing actual moments with them.
In a great twist of irony, social networks have not only made us less social, they have made us more socially awkward.
We no longer need to pick up the phone and call someone, because we can read about their exploits on Facebook. We don't need them to regale us with stories of their last great adventure because we already saw the photos on Instragram and saw it exaggerated courtesy of Hipstamatic.
Is this what we want our relationships to be: news snippets?
Exhibitionists and Voyeurs
We are evolving into a society that is either shamelessly broadcasting our exploits, or silently watching the exaggerated exploits of others.
How will this play out in ten years?
As a culture, I believe we will tire of this. I sure hope so. Facebook has become an extension of our reality show obsession; it gives every person the chance to be a mini-celebrity.
With one small, but crucial problem: Most people just aren't that interesting.
When do we get bored of reading the mundane status updates of people we haven't talked to in a decade? When do we tire of perusing the photos of someone we have never met in person?
There is a guy I have never met who friended me on Facebook, and for some reason posts daily pictures of his abs that appear in my newsfeed. It is absurd. I would rather get late-night phone calls from Charlie Sheen -- hell, even Martin Sheen.
I Have Seen This Movie Before
Sadly, this is history repeating itself. In 1999, every dot.com company was faced with the same challenge every individual faces on Facebook today: rising above the noise.
It was the effect of too many dollars being spent marketing too many poorly polished messages and me-too products. It was disastrous. After a while, consumers just started tuning everything out.
A Return to Substance
Like the sock puppet of yesteryear, this, too, will fade; I believe (and hope) that we are merely passengers on the boat of transition.
The amazing thing about every technology revolution is that society eventually figures out the ideal use case, even if it is an oft-bumpy road. The creators of the Web never imagined a platform that would enable the rich applications we have today. The inventors of YouTube never imagined it enabling brilliant education in the poorest parts of the world. The folks at Microsoft never envisioned the extent the hacking community would embrace the Kinect (and most of us never envisioned something so brilliant coming from Microsoft).
The really exciting part is ahead of us. There are fascinating uses for today's technologies that will have profound effects beyond the initial design. Here are but a few examples:
· Facebook has created the largest database of humans and their family connections ever built. If you could overlay this database with health information, you could bring unthinkable efficiencies to the organ donor problem and countless others.
· The Microsoft Kinect (seriously, I bet even Microsoft was surprised it was that good) enables totally new ways of interacting with your computer that extend far beyond the gaming purpose it was created for. One brilliant example was created by a team in Germany that used a Kinect to generate real-time 3D imagery to provide "sight" for blind people.
Publishing itself has been transformed in the last decade. While we witnessed the decline of print, we also watched the meteoric rise of socially driven news that informs in real time. It has rallied millions of people to a cause in minutes, and helped overthrow a government in weeks.
In 1939, the American Society of Law Proceedings published a simple statement thought by many to be a Chinese curse. It said, simply, "May you live in interesting times." More than any other point in history, our society is being transformed by technology. The only question remaining is the outcome.
The few survivors that have been in the eye of a tornado described it as calm and peaceful, but filled with overwhelming energy. It isn't until long after a storm passes that you get a clear view of its impact.
While I rest from Facebook fatigue, I can't help but imagine what it brings with it.