Dwight Silverman asks why some people have elected not to use social media, having received some decidedly anti-social media comments on his blog. Before I answer that question, let me point out something Dwight said that bears repeating. Many social media haters already use some form of social media: message boards, comments on blogs, etc. I’ll go one step further. What about group email? Text messages? What about Amazon? The best thing about Amazon is the user reviews. There is a difference, however, between social media as a way to manage your existing network, and social media as your network.
Take Amazon, for example, Amazon helps you evaluate a purchase, make that purchase and have that purchase delivered. That’s a time saving benefit you can’t get anywhere else. Email also serves a distinct purpose that helps you efficiently manage your network. So does texting. While these things help you navigate through your real-world network, they are less concerned with helping you create a network. If you’re interested in communicating with strangers, denoting some of them as cyber-friends, and nurturing the most promising of those ephemeral relationships into something tangible, there are real friends to be made through some of the social media applications. Friends and the resulting transitive connections make a network. There’s value in that, and in no way am I denigrating those who do this. But at that point, the social media applications, either singly or in the aggregate, have become your network. To the profit of the developers, but that’s another story.
And then there’s the troublesome problem of separating those who want to be your friend from those who want your money. It’s much harder to evaluate the motives of online friendship, where the barrier for entry is low, the anonymity is high and just about everyone is out to make a buck.
There are billions of us out here who don’t want to create our networks online. We simply want help in managing our existing, real-world networks. I’d rather have dinner with someone than read his Facebook page or hear what he ate via Twitter. And, to be honest, I think there is a collective feeling out here that a lot of these applications are toys, to be left for kids. I share a little of that. No matter how hard I try, I continue to think of Facebook as a place for young people. When I’m there, I feel like I’m playing with a GI Joe or something. MySpace is the Geocities for this generation: ugly, free web sites, with ads. Twitter is semi-interesting, but the majority of the traffic is people talking over each other or thinly disguised spam. There’s little there that can’t be handled via email.
Additionally, I think human nature prefers order over chaos. And content bits spread all over the various social networks is chaotic. Which is why I think aggregating sites like FriendFeed may get legs faster than the 112th Facebook clone.
In the end, I agree with Dwight. People who don’t use social media are not digital Luddites. Many of them are just busy grownups.