Concerned that social media is taking up too much time? Des Latham looks at what it all means.
Age 17 and burnt out, digitally speaking of course. He or she just had too much bad information too soon.
At age 23, he had fostered in his heart a burning desire to make movies, which he did. Posted to YouTube and after two views (him and his mom) after 10 days and he was suicidal.
After building her Twitter feed based on her laconic idiosyncratic notes, the rest of her digital peer group had grown up, but there she was – tormented by permanence in a sea of change. Go search Google and she pops up, still 15 and dressed like a Goth. Cached for life.
The challenge of keeping social media and networking live is that you have to live. And too often we come across the vacuous ramblings from so-called team leaders of ether-land lack compendiousness.
Is social media growing just a bit sad and old? There is now an agreed stress test for those who are addicted to social media. Stop for 48 hours, if you can. All addictions are sad.
It is an affliction in the way that any other obsession or habit that is anti-social is regarded as damaging to the psyche. Yet the affliction is directly related to the very essence of what social media entails. Becoming anti-social by burying oneself in social media. And therein lies the contradiction of this phenomenon
Social. What is the definition? Is the thumb-sucked avatar you’re gerrymandering with online a real social relationship?
Well, yes and no. Social media is vital in Syria. It’s life and death in Damascus. Social media has changed regimes recently so we cannot dispute that there is power in the various digital groups. It appears that the bourgeois element of smart-linking the apps tying down a flash mob could get you tied up and banged around, then perhaps drawn and quartered in the suburbs of Damascus.
So what about Facebook? LinkedIn? Each has its distinct flavour which users either laud or lampoon. So what is this social thing? Social is defined in various dictionaries as a gathering of men and women, an aggregation of community together in thought and deed, a meeting of minds and, finally, the apogee of social is summed up as being an ant.
As we produce our individual pages, and individuals seek action, the first super irony of social media is the conglomeration of thought that leads irrevocably to the formation of a hive, a hill, a mound of like-minded opinionistas.
A group of people who operate as one. Linked to the hill like a termite, incapable of individual action without first consulting the real-time digital oracle.
So the first element of this tiredness with social media is merely the passé thoughts of the social group that becomes an organic whole. You may be a person, but you’re only able to think by connecting with the other 150 (on average) friends you have to seek guidance in action. Our smartphone antenna may as well be attached to the head of a red ant. We diligently update our immediate action like a worker ant firing a smear of ammonia on a life trail down in the emotionally alienating boondock called social media.
Some people have woken to this fact, and this is the first reason that reassessing social media is smarter than you may first believe.
The second reality, beyond that of has-been theocracy, is privacy. As we drive our lives towards some future perfection, our present is imperfect. Our tenses are strangled. Our minds are boggled by the immediacy of appearing somewhere. The people waking up to this reality have realised that having data collected about what colour beanbags you prefer is actually rather invasive. In fact, it’s downright rude. It’s like someone entered our house and set up in your living room and then began recording your actions.
“15h12 – opened the fridge
15h15 – drank orange juice
15h20 – burped
15h25 – staggered to the little room
15h25.30 – unzipped jodhpurs”
Then sells this data to an analytics-hungry marketing wolf who says “all the better to see you with, my dear” when you query why such intricate online cookie detail is being collected. Most humans have an innately suspicious view of machines that are used to spy on our intimate moments.
The third reality is time. The world is made up of zones of time. Most of us reside in a single time zone.
Within that zone we enter our sleep and wake cycles with our lives packed with milliseconds. We act within these hours. We do stuff. If too many of those moments are consigned to telling people about what really happened a few seconds ago, we begin to lose touch with immediacy. We are actually indulging in building a legacy that is the want of our egos.
Folks have awoken to this third weakness of social media.
But it is still good to organise for future action. “Let’s gather in Tahrir Square at 5.30pm.” Yet too often social media is merely indulging our need to create a permanent time-line for posterity and, after a period, that becomes tiresome.
Facebook has a billion users. Its share price, while tanking at its initial public offering, is hovering around double its PE ratio at $20, so clearly the shareholders believe it has a future. Google recently released numbers that were weaker than anticipated – it serves billions of pages a second. Google+, its attempt at garnering social media users, is stuttering along.
There are more than 300 social media applications available for downloading on the average smartphone. Twitter has yet to launch an IPO but is probably regarded as the most useful information-sharing medium of all, based on its growth and the effect of 140 characters. The hash tag will never be the same again. YouTube is a complete narrowcasting channel that is here to stay.
So, social media will be with us well into the future. How we interact with the apps will depend on how invasive and destructive we let them become. The usage patterns, therefore, point to two kinds of user now and in the future.
The full-bore who will be happy to be eternally locatable and connected, and may even earn part of their income selling their digital actions. These will be middle class or poor. These won’t be companies or famous people. They will use social media as an aspiration-garnering function of their existence and will use social media to receive information about events and follow the lives of the rich and famous.
The excluder will switch off most applications and resort to using social media as an on-off function of their lives. These will control their surroundings and be essentially confidential. These will be companies and the upper middle classes, or entertainers. They will use social media as a tool to market themselves or events. These will be the rich and famous.
Des Latham, Summit TV’s news editor, has syndicated content using digital systems, run a mobile phone applications company and converted newsrooms from legacy systems to digital.