Wednesday, September 3, 2014

the rise and fall of social media

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I was thinking about where my journey with social media started. I remembered the old BBS I was on as a 15 year old, where friends would log in and play online role playing games and chat. But then I was only connecting with local people who knew when my friend, Levi, was going to have his server connect to his families home phone. Many times his mother would answer her phone and receive and earful of modem squeak. But there was one common thread there: Levi. If you didn't know the skinny red-headed kid you couldn't play along. It was a variation on kids playing in someone's yard. And we all worked toward common goals like getting along and being nice to each other cause no one wanted Levi to kick us off the server because we were being a jerk.

Later social media sites like MySpace and Facebook and Twitter appeared, although Facebook was the one that seemed to create a new sandbox. Suddenly everyone who commented didn't have to know me, or even of me. Sometimes a photo was shared by a well meaning relative and I'd receive the notification that someone had left a well thought out prose like, "who dat kid next to katies with big nose is that jeremy kid look like it". Never mind my name isn't Katie, I have no idea who Jeremy might be and we live 800 miles away. Not even text only post were immune from this sort of sharing and commenting. Users were told to set things to private so that random people would be unable to find and comment on photos/post.

But that should have been a giant signal of the end. Setting all your information to private moves social media towards antisocial, right?

As social media becomes more and more closed off I have more and more friends either leaving certain platforms or struggling to maintain balance. Many have told me, "I wish I could, but I can't delete Facebook because it is how people contact me." "I don't want to give out my phone number, but I'll give out my Facebook username." And the most unintentionally offensive ones, "But this is how I like to keep in touch with people I never see." or "I don't always comment or like but I enjoy reading (person)'s post." 

If you never see them,  are you really "keeping in touch" with them? Why?
If you enjoy reading their post but don't comment publicly are you actually just digitally stalking? What is your gain?

Even over on Google+ I have friends who are shutting it down. They're making all post private. And I'm a little sad.

I've made some great online only friends over the years. Fantastic friends. When my husband and I married a packaged arrived at our PO box a few days before the wedding. Inside were candle holders with hand strung glass beading for me to line the aisle I would walk down. A gift from the heart from someone who only knew us from our online presence. I was so touched. Really. The love of another person crossed those miles and made my special day even more special. 

I see the the closing of social media to "private" or certain circles only as the pendulum arriving at the other side. Anti-social media will continue to allow us to feel over connected to those we already know while allowing us to blank out any new experiences. If you had presented this model to 15 year old me I would have told you I'd already experienced it. It was called high school. 

I'm hoping that the soon we'll start swinging back towards online socialization. Instead of an algorithm designed to show you more of what you already like or over share your life the system will throw you towards something on the fringes of what you like. Something you might not care for but you'll form an opinion. And if you do like it you'll find a group there of other people who are interested in it and want to talk. A digital version of an awkward teen who can tell you when his friends are getting online if you wanna come hang out.

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