I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams and found myself transformed in my bed into a gigantic insect
Wow, bummer dude, sorry to hear that! :-(
This may come as a shock, since I am developing a social media platform, but social media makes me uncomfortable. Not because it enables and/or facilitates some form of connection between people, communities and (for better or worse) organizations and businesses. The problem, for me is this:
Social media products, like Twitter and Facebook, not only facilitate connection…they DEFINE it. I can present myself to the world more easily with these products, but my presentation will be formatted, and branded, by these conduits of experience. Life, as defined by Facebook, is largely white with shades of royal blue. It is funneled through tight chat spaces and littered with cheesy icons. Liking something (or someone) is expressed with a click, and friendship is defined by it.
That the medium defines the experience is a phenomena not unique to social media. It is true for any medium. As one of the great thinkers on the subject, Marshal McLuhan famously said (my father, the biggest McLuhan fan, will be very proud of me for writing this):
“the medium IS the message.”
Meaning, to quote Wikipedia (paraphrasing McLuhan):
“The form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived”
If, then, the message is social connection, and the medium is Facebook, Twitter, etc., these products are defining what connection means. In many ways, connection is being industrialized, and therefor homogenized, through social media. This is, it can be argued, a necessary evil. In order to communicate with each other, we have to share a language, and the narrower the parameters of that language are, the more accessible it will be. But who defines the parameters of this language, and what are the criteria for determining them? And is the loss of depth of experience, in the service of broadly shared experience, on balance a good thing? Should we not be hyper-concerned about the presentation and definition of the medium, especially as it pertains to social interaction and connection? Are we all in danger of having the great breadth of human experience be forever funneled into tight chat spaces, littered with cheesy icons, and tinged with hints of royal blue? Will our unbearable lightness of being be stuffed into tubes branded“f” or “t,” and squeezed out onto a ticker?
As I design yet another social media space, I think about these things. I think about what a great responsibility it is to define the way large swaths of humanity interact with each other. I think about how to strike the right balance between broad outreach and depth and variation of experience, both personal and shared. I hope all the lords of our social media kingdoms are equally consumed by the weight of this responsibility. Lest we wake up one morning, in the not too distant future, and find the new gospel is now no more than 140 characters, and glory is now forever expressed by, and reduced to, a mouse click and an emoticon.