First, there was the specious assertion by some researchers from Princeton that you could compare the rise and fall of Facebook to an infectious disease, and therefore -- using Google searches of Facebook as indication of its health -- 80% of us will leave Facebook by 2017. Well, it makes for a good headline, especially if one assumes that people from Princeton know what they’re talking about, which probably goes a long way toward explaining the study’s initial buzz. But as a commenter on my favorite blog pointed out, thinking that people go through Google to get to Facebook -- and using that as your primary indicator of Facebook’s decline -- is downright dopey. It doesn’t say anything about actual usage of the site.
A data scientist at Facebook cheekily used the same methodology to “prove” that Princeton is facing imminent death -- which, if it keeps churning out studies like the one above, may in fact become true.
And then there was this column in The New York Times, which used Justin Bieber’s DUI arrest as reason to tsk-tsk about the state of Twitter. After watching Twitter users try to outfunny each other over Biebergate, the column’s author, Jenna Wortham, concluded that “Twitter isn’t really about the most important thing anymore — it stopped being about relevancy a long time ago.” Now, she asserts, “It feels as if we’re all trying to be a cheeky guest on a late-night show, a reality show contestant or a toddler with a tiara on Twitter — delivering the performance of a lifetime, via a hot, rapid-fire string of commentary, GIFs or responses that help us stand out from the crowd.”
Last night, when I conducted my own personal Tweet-a-thon during the Grammys, I’d have to say guilty as charged -- because, man, was I cheeky! -- but my ultimate solution for Ms. Wortham is to quit following people who spend time thinking about Justin Bieber. If Twitter is no longer about relevance, then I can’t, for the life of me, think why I immediately went to Twitter when I suspected that Gmail was down last Friday, and why the Twitterverse delivered on my suspicion within seconds. When you’re staring at three or four deadlines, it isn’t relevant that Twitter can instantaneously tell you that Gmail is down? Sheesh.
What we are really seeing in the attempts to kill off Twitter and Facebook is human nature at work. We’ve built them up, so now we have to find a way to destroy them. But it’s a funny thing about social media and human nature. Maybe, at some point, we will disentangle ourselves from both platforms, but their genius is how they tap into human nature themselves: not the killing-off part, but the sharing part. Perhaps your spirit becomes broken when it becomes overstuffed with Bieber, making you want to swear off social media for days. But when and if that happens, the last thing you’ll do before going cold turkey is tweet about it -- only to come back, quietly, a few days later, trying to catch up on what you’ve missed.