I’m increasingly disillusioned with Facebook. I’ll take that observation a step further; I’m beginning to wonder if the use of the term ‘social’ to describe how many people communicate online and via mobile phones is, in fact, tragically ironic.
If you have been reading this blog for any period of time my comments may surprise you because I’ve long advocated the importance of social marketing and social networking (note: they are two distinct and separate things). In its most simplistic sense it (social) represents free speech and therefore will never go away. But can you have too much of a good thing?
But the future is social! Or is it? Recent news about Facebook provides contradictory data. On one hand you have reports that millions of people stopped using Facebook last month. Then there’s data suggesting Facebook will become the Web as detailed on Silicon Alley Insider only last week:
Suggesting Facebook will replace the Web isn’t new and marketers seem to agree with evermore companies spending millions to get people to their Facebook business page instead of their Website (See: Death of The Website).
But somethings wrong in Dodge and I find myself increasingly frustrated. When I first started using Facebook back in 2007 I was firmly in the ‘What’s the point?’ camp. But as the months passed by I found that the more I used Facebook the better it became. I connected with long lost friends and they were real friends.
Those months became years and as my ‘friend’ list grew I noticed something was missing; namely content from the people I really wanted to hear from. As I now reach 1,000 Facebook contacts I routinely hear about friends important life events way too long after they happen and often it’s not via Facebook. News simply gets lost in the cacophony of status updates and Foursquare check-ins and recycled daily inspirational quotes. Acknowledging that I cannot have real relationships with that many people I am beginning to realize that the more connected I become the more each relationship is watered down.
As I question the value of social, specifically Facebook, I look at my own path. I used to say that the more you put into Facebook the more you get out of it. I have transitioned to a place where I have to acknowledge that the more connections I have, the greater chance there is of me not seeing anything of value.
Todd Carpenter (Director of Digital Engagement for the National Association of REALTORS) recently unfriended me. At first I have to admit I wondered if I had pissed him off. Todd wasn’t an anonymous connection; I had met him in person, shook his hand, spoken to him and we had countless ‘friends’ in common. We fill the silence with the sounds of our own insecurities (thanks Keen Eddie) and yet I think I’m a likeable person so why un-friend me? Had I put something on Facebook that he found offensive or disagreed with? Was there too much business content on my profile page? What was it?
Todd explained the reason very publicly and while I didn’t initially agree with his position I felt better knowing I was not alone in the cull.
I now find myself understanding Todd’s position. In fact I believe it’s a smart move, something I might replicate.
In his explanation Todd talks about ‘the birthday test’ (“Facebook will let you know anytime any of your friends on the network is having a birthday. Knowing that, simply look at the people on that list and do one of two things — either plan to wish them a happy birthday, or delete them.”) which prompts me to highlight one (of several) issues with Facebook. With almost 1,000 connections am I supposed to wish ‘happy birthday’ to (on average) three people a day? Of course averages are pretty useless; the reality is that there are some days when I have as many as ten ‘friends’ celebrating a birthday. At the risk of being called anti-social I really don’t want to keep posting ‘Happy Birthday!’ messages.
Another problem is that people often think posts on Facebook are seen by all of their connections. That’s simply not the case especially for anyone with a lot of ‘friends’.
And then there are mobile phones. All too often I see groups of people at BBQ’s, parties, even dinner spending more time looking at their mobile phone than talking to the people in front of them. I have to say this; that’s damn rude! The worst example I have seen personally happened at a wake. There, sitting in the front row just four foot from the deceased, a Realtor friend of mine sat merrily texting and checking email via her mobile phone. Is there nowhere sacrosanct from mobile phone use?
If you’d rather check email, send a text or do anything with your phone than talk to the person/people in front of you:
1. You need new friends, or
2. You are rude and I don’t want you to be my friend.
The anti-social impact of mobile phone use is increasing (see: The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media) but it’s only part of the problem.
All of this, in my mind, adds up to a rate of diminishing return when it comes to so-called social interaction. We seem to be moving towards an increasingly connected and yet far less truly social population. Am I wrong or am I really being anti-social?