I have a pretty obvious love-hate relationship with social media. For simplicity’s sake, and to start a post with some concrete statements instead of directionless blather (which I will save for the middle and end), here are some things from each of those categories.
- I hate how important people make social media out to be.
- I hate how much attention it gets in the media as a result of being disproportionately useful/engaging to people in the media.
- I hate how obviously many social media tools are designed for the perfect user, instead of the kind of mouth-breathers (like me) who will actually use it (Facebook and Google, especially).
- I hate that my most annoying friends are the ones who participate the most, and that the vast majority of my interesting friends barely participate at all.
- I love the user focus of social media sites (at least the good ones, which are often the popular ones) – off the top of my head, I can’t think of another industry that cares more about your experience using their product.
- I love how services are held accountable for no longer caring about their audience. MySpace stopped caring about what it was like to use MySpace, and they died almost instantly. Facebook annoys people, but that’s only when it’s necessary to meet their increasingly weird business model. They still care about – and put a lot of work into – the experience.
- I love the way it fosters creativity among people.
- I love the way it cuts out the media from the places where it has the least value (I’m thinking largely of sports, here).
Looking at this list, I think what I really like isn’t social media, but internet publishing tools, which is probably why I get such an irrationally big kick out of maintaining a fairly comprehensive, largely unread web presence. If I were someone else, I’d be a social media juggernaut; I think of things that I think are neat and worth telling anyone who cares ALL THE TIME. But I’m me, and the idea of bothering people so I can tell them what I think about something they very likely aren’t interested in is inherently repellent to me.
As somewhat of an aside, I also have this dorky love of data services that talk to each other. When I was a kid, my Dad taught me to program in various forms of BASIC, and one of the most satisfying things I ever did with it was write a little program that could open a text document and import various elements of it. I just thought it was so cool that I could access data from a whole other world, and connect it to something built for a completely different purpose, where it could have totally different uses. I think that’s the same thing I love about the API-driven web era, where these hundreds of services all talk to each other and allow you to push and pull data. I love when different technologies can talk to each other; that just seems like the root of so many good potential ideas.
But like I said, I’m starting to realize that has a lot less to do with social media specifically, and a lot more to do with web technology, which simply facilitates social media (among other things). I’ve gotten really, really curmudgeonly about Facebook ever since they rolled out the idea for the Timeline thing, going so far as to basically hide/delete (whatever Facebook actually allows) pretty much all of my contributions. I haven’t put anything up in a few months, and I honestly think I’m really done with it.
Here’s the problem for me in a nutshell. Ultimately, I’d rather talk to myself than to someone who doesn’t care about what I’m saying. If you know me really well, this is obvious – I will absolutely talk your EAR off, and then you’ll introduce me to someone at a party and I’ll find the first excuse to go stand in the coat closet and think about sports or the internet or some band I was in a decade ago, unless that person seems legitimately interested in what I’m saying, in which case I have a new friend (this happened twice in four years of college). People assume that means I’m shy, but I’m not shy at all. I just sang a horrible lounge version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer to 120 co-workers and assorted strangers in Vietnam, completely sober, while walking around like I was backing up Run-DMC. Why? Because they asked me to sing. You wanna hear me sing? You got it. Am I going to ASK you to listen to me sing? Probably not.
I think the reason Facebook makes me increasingly uncomfortable is that they’re so interested in promoting my thoughts/pictures/activities on my behalf, instead of simply letting me choose when to do it. And that’s no better than me bothering people myself – now I’ve simply got Facebook running around asking people if they’ve watched me sing karaoke yet, which is only one degree away from me annoying people myself. I don’t like that.
Elementary’s own Feathers recently shuttered his blog/website (it’s significantly older than mine), and made the now standard remark that he’ll still be writing on Twitter and Facebook. That really seems to be the direction everyone is headed in, which seems to indicate people have had – all this time – very different goals than I when it comes to their little respective web presences. I tried it, but Twitter doesn’t do it for me; it’s too restrictive, and utterly pointless without the social component (which I’m unwilling to foster by brute force, as seems to be the normal way to do it). And Facebook seems to be more about dumping a bunch of information into Facebook’s digital brain and hoping they use it in a way that people find interesting, which seems way too lazy and conformist for me to find worth doing.
But at the same time, would many of the pointless conversations I have via email be more interesting if they were on Twitter, where other interested people could add to them? Probably. Maybe Jeff and I just need to make a new rule – something like “we can only ask each other Celtics questions on Twitter”.
Who knows. Maybe I’m just too old for this stuff; the tail end of the millenial generation still has one foot in the 80’s, after all.