As we know it today, social media has been around for fifteen years, and in that time, it has gone from novelty to ubiquitous. We have given it our data willingly and for free and enabled eye-watering valuations for founders as we have become the product they sell. We are profiled and targeted at levels of detail that are either awesome or frightening, depending on our perspective.
I wonder, though, how much of substance has really changed. We have created a “froth” society, whole industries that feed off social media and a swamp of news sources with dubious, if not dishonest, motives and find ourselves technically connected but socially fragmented. However, we still have the same number of close friends at an individual level, the same number of good friends, and no matter what our tally says on social media, the same number of acquaintances as we had before we had heard of social media.
The thing is, people don’t scale. Underneath all that froth, we still make our decisions the same way we always have, talking with those we trust. The froth, though, is not benign – we hate to miss information; it feels the same as losing something. The fear it generates consumes vast amounts of our attention, distracts us from what is essential, leaves us wallowing in low-level stress, and reduces our peace of mind.
We know that we can do nothing about most items that will capture our attention today and that most are transient, yet we will still click on them and have our eyeballs dragged to skilfully placed advertisements.
I am curious at what point the novelty of social media will wear off, as we realise it changes very little. Early adopters could use it effectively to influence elections and other events, but now skills are widely spread, techniques standard practice, and offer only marginal and fleeting advantage.
We are all being carried along on the same wave. How well we surf it is down to our focus, and that is determined by those very few people around us, the same as it has always been. Social Media adds more heat than light, and we need to use it with great care.
As we cope with the changes to come, we will do well to strengthen those few relationships to explore emerging realities with those we trust rather than scouring Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Take the time to have slow, thoughtful, enjoyable conversations about what matters. Froth is seductive but dangerous.