Social media as a lifestyle choice, rather than a stop gap

One of the biggest ironies of the social media is that those whose profession it is to get brands and companies to set up a presence within the social media environment themselves see it as a waste of time, and no substitute for what most people would refer to as real life, real life being the life that you live in the physical world rather than sat behind a computer, or online.

Almost everyone you ever talk to will tell you that communicating with people online is a waste of time, that everything is superficial and there is no gain to be had, on a personal and emotional level. Of course they’re right but not for the reasons they believe in. I was transcribing an interview of a 19 year old Belge girl speaking about how important her mobile phone was and how it helped her stay in contact with the world. In particular she was talking about the role of sms. When asked about facebook though she didn’t think that much of it.

A lot of people think this way. They are happy with the SMS, a technology that is about twenty years old by now. As a result of this interview and many I have listened to in the past what I find most interesting is the tertiary role that computers and full social media websites have, as a role in how people interact socially with each other. Have you ever noticed how many pictures and videos are made available through facebook and youtube. Every time you go to a conference hundreds of pictures are uploaded, dozens of videos are shared but then there is one part that is never carried on.

That part is the conversation. Where is the modern day pen writing? Where is the passion of communicating with friends you’ve met at an event but won’t meet again for months? Where is the ongoing dialogue? It’s as if once you’ve met someone in the real world you believe that to talk online is a sign of how pathetic your social life is. There must be something lacking if you need twitter to converse. There must be something lacking if you spend too much time on online forums.

Facebook is a waste of time for so many people. How many people will take the time to read the comments you leave on a facebook item? How many of them feel that to respond is not a waste of time? Hundreds of thousands of people are on twitter, and hundreds of thousands of them are following strangers they will never take the time to converse with. Why are people on the web so passive? By being passive users of a technology like twitter you devalue it for those that take it seriously.

Just yesterday one person said they saw no value in friendfeed because they received no answer to what they said. Of course they got no response. You’ve got to show that your active for people to know that there is a point in reacting to what has been said. You can’t expect people to respond to every new member of a community for everything they say. It just doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t work the other way either. To spend hundreds of hours online and commenting thousands of times does help build your profile and for people to notice you, but for how long. In the same way that I complain about how people no longer feel any passion for twitter so I see some of the earlier friendfeed users saying the same thing about that site. It seems to be a staple of many online communities that they grow and shrink.

How many of your university friends do you have on facebook and how many of them do you find taking the time to keep in touch. The number is low. The only reason it was high as a student is that you were living a common experience as a result of which the bonds are stronger.

That’s why I live with hope for how important the social media will one day become, once we see a shift in how people view the online lifestyle in relation to the social media. Film students don’t mind watching the same film five times in one week, series watchers don’t mind watching fiction on television. For them this is not a waste of time. So why are the social media not fashionable. Why are people so retiscent to create friendships on the web. Why do local communities spend so little time online. Why does the web work to organise events but not for actual conversations between relatively normal people. And don’t tell me it’s narcisism. The same thing happens offline but you’ve grown up with it so you don’t notice.

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