[Writer’s note: With graduation swiftly approaching and school/internship/extracurriculars/job searching eating away at my time, I’ve admittedly been slacking on updating this blog. But by no means have I stopped thinking of things to write about. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about social media. And as I struggled to boil down my thoughts into one clear and cohesive post, I had a better idea. So with this post, I’m kicking off a (short) series about my thoughts on social media. Stay tuned for my opinions on social media in journalism!]
It may seem strange to begin my commentary on social media by talking about the future. But really, it makes the most sense. Social media sites are evolving so quickly that understanding the future of social media may be the key to understanding the role it plays in the present.
Here’s what I mean: A few weeks ago, a rumor popped up on the Internet about Google unveiling a new social networking site called Google Circles. When I heard about it (appropriately, through Twitter), I was intrigued, so I did a little bit of research. It all stemmed from a presentation that ex-Google researcher Paul Adams gave on real-life social circles and how social media sites can improve to better imitate the boundaries and social connections we maintain offline.
It was, of course, just a rumor in the end. But it got me thinking about the future of social media. There’s always a lot of hype about how Facebook and Twitter et al. are changing the way people communicate. And it’s difficult not to find some truth in that view. I think this blog post by Jess Moore at USA Today College makes some really good points about a generation raised with social media: expressive, impatient, ever-connected…these words really do define our generation in a way that few others do. As a generation, we communicate in radically different ways than our predecessors.
But here’s where the philosophy behind Google Circles comes in. Paul Adams makes an invaluable point: When you really try to understand the way that people use social media sites and what they gain from using them, it’s clear that the evolution of social media is dictated by the way we humans communicate and socialize with each other — not the other way around. It all starts with understanding real human connections.
To see that, all you have to do is look at the direction social media sites are headed. Recently, I went to see a presentation by David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect. He talked about the evolution of Facebook and social media, and how Facebook is in the midst of a transition from stand-alone website to a sort of platform for the entire Internet. It’s creeping onto more and more of the Internet these days, with “Like” buttons installed on thousands of websites every day and Facebook Connect automatically linking comments on outside websites back to your Facebook page.
So bit by bit, everything you do on the Internet is becoming linked to your real identity – and your “real” (read: offline) life. Social media sites are leading the charge toward an Internet that more closely resembles, well, everything else.
It’s a trend that’s worth paying attention to. Of course, there are those who still scoff at the importance of Twitter (although maybe those revolutions in Egypt and Libya have quieted them down a bit) and those who will claim that Facebook is systematically destroying the kind of real, deep friendships that make life worth living.
Well, here’s what I say to that. First, there is no denying that we are in a social media world, so we might as well get used to it. Secondly, call me an optimist, but I don’t think Facebook is obliterating genuine social connections or replacing true friendships with online personas. In fact, I think we’re moving toward an Internet that’s more like a mirror of the real world, mimicking the ways we interact in real life and making communication more efficient and effective.
Google Circles may not be anything real. But Paul Adams’ ideas (and the obvious trajectory that social media sites are on) raise some crucial points about the future of social media and the Internet in general. Who knows…maybe, someday, we won’t need to distinguish between Internet activity and “real life.”