A Social Media Evolution May Be Underway
Social media is just a set of tools that are bolted together and left to grow in the laboratory that is the world. A platform from which something is launched. A filter that mediates communication between people, with some algorithmic biases. Social media really is the black mirror – a screen that reflects back at people whatever aspects of their character they choose to display. Or it is an influencer in its own right that hides behind the idea of a free-floating hive mind that is left to be policed by the algorithms and policies of creators asleep at the wheel.
Myspace was a personalized corner of the web, where you could encrust the place with digital trinkets, and fly your freak flag. Facebook anonymized everyone and created isolated herds who could only hear the sounds of the like-minded. I know a lot of people for whom Twitter became little more than a link-blogging feed-dump, after the trolls drowned out the dialogue in feedback. Facebook was somewhere you could share things, but that is becoming harder as Facebook becomes more about being everything to everyone. Amazon hasn’t really branched into it too much, but they did buy Goodreads, which socializes reading, their initial source of bread and butter. Amazon has fingers in many pies, so who knows what will happen if Facebook doesn’t pull out of the critical nosedive it seems to be in?
Warren Ellis, still thought of as Internet Jesus for some, shifted from a big web presence and his own social media platforms to an offline network linked by newsletters, and he is talking about a return to blogging. At least with blogging you could really feel the impact of the signal, and you didn’t have the soft interaction noise of shallow connections that most social media measures its efficacy in.
Part of this feels like a very middle-aged discussion though, affecting primarily people of a certain age who expected to replicate something from IRL in the digital realm, and were disappointed that they used an architecture that can be manipulated to a point where it appeared sturdy on the surface, while crumbling at some deep structural level that is more suggestive of an existential crisis than a data management problem. The kids don’t care – they are invested elsewhere, and they are using the internet differently.
I feel like my generation went diving into cyberspace with a virtual aqualung, but these kids were born being able to breathe the atmosphere, and what seems like an attenuated space to me, to them is a natural environment; a native habitat. I was there from the start, as it clunked into life, and I’ve evolved my use to match my early adopter tendencies. The problem is, seeing it as an analogue means you are expecting it to behave in the way that your original models worked, and I don’t think the younger generations have that notional stumbling block.
All The Broken Things May Not Get Fixed, They May Get Replaced Wholesale
The ecosystem is changing because the dream we had for it met the meat grinder of commerce, and the viewpoint that saw it as a tool for mass manipulation. People are looking to personalize their areas again and break the connections to all the flows that drag in their content and their attention and make them feel and act a certain way. Culture has seemed to be accelerating and rolling through blip culture iterations for a long time, and it is as if the internet is nearing the end of the lumbering dinosaur big box phase, and may be about topple over into artisan territory. In the same way small towns need their little mom and pop type stores again, the internet is going to be a divided territory, between those who like beefburgers mass produced, and those who like something a little more special. Over-extension and infrastructural issues are starting to make themselves felt everywhere – the small businessman and the grass-roots movement is where it is going to be at. Like the re-set button is being hit. What is happening in government is a mirror of what is happening societally, and that is happening in technology too – disruption as a modus operandi destabilizes the stable datum of what something is and how it is going to be used, and so surfing the wave of change becomes the necessary operating basis … either that or you get behind the wave and you drive it. Those are the choices – influencer or adaptive user.
Evolution is something that comes to all culture. Remix culture went through similar iterations – recycle and recycle and recycle until you hot the point where you have to start making some original sounds to keep the world spinning. Facebook does Facebook really well, and a lot of the nascent websites trying to step up to the plate haven’t been able to beat it at its own game. Maybe that isn’t the game anymore. Facebook came along and had such a large impact that the other networks started to change the way that they did things – Twitter’s free-fall for a while seemed sponsored by their obsession with beating Facebook, and they lost, for a while, what made them unique. Myspace fell from grace and then tanked.
Whatever it is that is churning up the dust along the horizon hasn’t come into view yet, but hopefully the shape of social media doesn’t look anything like what we have now. Who knows, it may be built on the back of one the makeshift structures that are driving social change at the moment. The mirror only needs to stay black if we don’t work out some way to make it reflect something brighter, and that has to be possible. The desire to have to facilitate the same kind of interactions and relationships and means of moving data around, and transmitting ideas to people, may be a misstep – what we may need to do it is wait for the current models to get broken apart and gutted, and for something totally alien that comes along and force us to learn how to walk again.