(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)
Facebook was used to harvest data by a highly unethical and bizarre campaign firm, Cambridge Analytica, to sway the US elections resulting in a worldwide scandal, with more coming out all the time. Twitter has terrible controls and policing and still seems infested with bots and haters. It’s not looking good for social media out there.
I saw someone post recently (I think, ironically, on Twitter) that the internet becgan being less beneficial with Twitter and Facebook became prominent. That got me thinking as my instinct, as a technophile, is to not believe that any technology is bad. My instinct was there, but it wasn’t defending itself very well.
So I’m going to try a thought experiment – what would happen if I suddenly gave up Facebook and/or Twitter? What if they vanished?Let’s learn from this experiment.
OK, so Facebook gives us a massively integrated service. Messaging, posting, building groups, events, and more. it integrated with OTHER services as well. It’s a one-stop shop of things – which of course was part of the problem for data mining, because it’s a great place to get tons of data and influence people.
My intended use for it is:
- Keep in touch with friends and family.
- Post about my books and projects and provide a way to be reached.
- Schedule events without using email or Meetup.com.
- Find people I forgot about.
In addition I use it for:
- Reading and posting random funny stuff.
- Occasional ranting.
Right here I see that one of the big advantages of Facebook is twofold – integrated services and everyone else using it. However it’s the latter that means a lot more to me – Facebook is successful as people are using it. If no one else was using it I wouldn’t care, it’d just be an interesting thing.
So if Facebook vanished then I’d:
- Keep up with friends and family in other ways. I’d probably use mailing lists and chat programs more.
- I’d read more friend’s blogs/tumblrs to keep up with them.
- I’d schedule things via email, meetup.com, or google.
- I’d get random stuff through tumblr.
- I’d promote my projects differently and probably focus more on blogs and newsletters.
Hmmm. Sounds like that “integration” and “everyone uses it” thing is a big part of Facebook. Those are things that can be done elsewhere (integration) or change (mass exodus from Facebook).
Let’s try Twitter.
Yes, I know Twitter is a swamp of BS, bots, hate. it’s also a great focused Microblogging service and good for news feeds. I am going to passionately note that the current Twitter could have been something better – a microblogging and news alert system. But I get ahead of myself, though it reveals I probably like Twitter more than Facebook.
So what do I use Twitter for?
- Screaming into the void.
- Following friends doing the above or doing something useful.
- Getting newsfeeds and updates and re-posting them.
- Sort-of chatting.
- Promoting my work and networking.
- Finding and enjoying funny stuff or weird stuff.
I can’t say there’s anything that surprises me. That also tells me I’m kinda more open about my Twitter usage.
So looking at this it tells me my Twitter usage is broader and more passionate. I get updates that are important, post stuff, and communicate. I’m not scheduling events or anything, just communicating, listening, or yelling. Again it makes me appreciate the odd purity of Twitter.
But what if Twitter vanished and there was no replacement? What would I do?
- Get my news via newsfeeds.
- I’d probably discuss news more in my blogs.
- I’d probably join some news discussion groups and sites and use them.
- I’d focus a lot more on my newsletters for promoting my work.
- I’d do different marketing for my work.
- I’d definitely look more to tumblr for weird and silly stuff.
This tells me that, again, I actually like Twitter more than Facebook, which I may have to process for awhile. Also almost everything it does can be done elsewhere, though not as fast. Twitter is a sort of blog/message board/RSS fusion.
WAIT WHAT IF BOTH VANISHED?
OK if Twitter and Facebook both vanished what would I do? I think it’s obvious – everything would be back to blogging, newsletters, meetups, chats, and RSS feeds.
Which tells me, that, yes Twitter and Facebook really changed how we used the internet. If they vanished my life would basically go back to what I did before the service came to be. I’d just have more awareness of the goals, benefits, and disadvantage of integration.
WHAT DID I LEARN?
So thought experiment done. Now what have I learned out of all of this? Here’s what these two social media services give us:
AMPLIFICATION: One reason we love these services is Amplification. They can reach people and reach a TON of people. That’s an obvious answer but it’s very important to understand the power (or illusion of power) Facebook and Twitter give us.
That also means that any potential replacements or new incarnations need to keep this in mind – or we ask if we need it.
INTEGRATION: Is useful, it’s nice to have, and I think we get used to it. It certainly helps when you use something as primary social tool – but it also brings its own problems of data usage, spamming, or time-wasting.
As social media evolves and changing, we’ll need to rethink Integration. What do we need, how do we do it safely, and how often do we care.
AUDIENCE: Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t matter if they hadn’t built their huge user bases. They’re the result of self-fulfilling prophecy. It may be hard to get people off the platforms, but clearly audience matters.
This also means they’re vulnerable as part of their weight is just weight – we want that audience.
CONNECTION: We want to connect with people. These services give that – or the illusion of that at the very least. We value that.
We might question if we’re actually connecting in a useful or appropriate or healthy way. I’m wondering, as I examine this, if there may be some problems here. It’s not always deep connection.
COMMUNICATION: We want to know what’s up. Obviously. In many ways Social Media isn’t remarkable as there’s just so many ways to do this, Social Media just adds all the above.
I question if we’re communicating that well via social media considering the various joke posts, bot posts, etc. Maybe we’re not really communicating.
In the end, Facebook and Twitter don’t do anything unusual, they integrate things, streamline them, and bring a big audience and access. Ther’es nothing wrong with this of course, it’s just as I step back I see how they built on known services and our desires.
I think they’ve proven to be both problems and benefits. I view them as neutrals-to-sort-of-good – but deeply flawed and manipulated. Sometimes I think they both cause and solve problems, which seems a bit of a wash.
If they vanished, though, or I stopped using them I could live without them. Anyone could, we’d just have to rethink how we interact (which maybe we ought to do anyway). It’d just be back to the earlier internet – but we did learn valuable lessons in what we need and want.
After this little exercise it’s given me a few things to think about with social media, our dependence, our issues, our mistakes. There’s probably a lot more to come out of this.
I have a few changes I’m making:
- I’m going to be more thoughtful on my social media and what I use it for.
- I want to cultivate more intimate discussions through my various media.
- I don’t want to depend on any one kind of media.
- It’s pretty clear I use Social Media to waste a lot of time and need to rethink that.
As for the future of Twitter and Facebook? Well in a way they’r enothing specual or unique, and they can’t (and won’t) stay the same forever o rbe forever. Things are changing, how they change – and how others change – is going to be something to watch.
But I can choose what I do.