When is being connected socially being too connected socially? At the moment, from where I am sitting, it looks like all of my social networks are going to converge fairly soon. They may have done so already overnight whilst I sleep. But soon, it’s all going to come together in one uber social network and everybody is going to know everything about everybody. All of the information that we put up on our Facebook pages, enter into Twitter or Jaiku or Pownce, this information was simply not here a year or so ago.
It’s the minute details of our lives, not just the big stuff, but what we are having for lunch, what we are watching on TV, who we like and dislike. It will allow us to know so much about people we know, and people on the periphery of our social scene. I already know too much about the ins and out of a stag night that some of my friends went to. Before we would possibly hear about it through word of mouth, or see some photos posted to Flickr or sent round in an email. Now we get a blow by blow account, from several different points of view, practically whilst it’s happening.
But what if I am someone who who is interested in hiring you, or doing a business deal with you, would you want me to know what happened? Now I know that people are not so stupid as to put up all of the dirt, and that they “tone down” the worst. But it is enough to get a picture of what is going on. And what if I work for the State, and I want to know about you? Before, I had to do some grunt work, I had to follow you around for a few days, get a picture of who you are. Now, anyone can follow you around for a few days, get a picture of who you are. This stuff is all archived. And lots of it is searchable on Google. So now, I can find out tons about you, way too much information about your diet, your habits, your friends and what you and they are doing.
At the moment it seems that everyone is joining Facebook, and most tech people I know are already on Twitter, Jaiku and now Pownce. There’s also Ning and a few others. Even my artist friends are flocking to Facebook. But I believe that at some point we are going to pull back from all of this interaction and sharing of minutiae. Why do I say that? Two reasons; burnout, and because it all happened before, with the telephone.
I say burnout, because I think that we may all tire of telling everyone about all of this. It cant be sustainable, although I will quickly backtrack and add I don’t think we are at the peak of this yet, there is still a good twelve months worth of growth to go. But burnout it will, we will get bored of this unless someone comes along with technology to make it even easier to update, maybe hands free from our mobile phone/computer or whatever the iPhone will become.
The other explanation was the previous experience of the telephone. When the phone was introduced, it allowed quick connection of people. Rich people at first, as it was expensive, it was a club. It grew virally, like social networking software, but it took a long time before the man in the street could afford their own home phone. The man in the street, for a long time, could only afford to use the phone that was placed in the street, the payphone. The other people that quickly adopted the phone were businesses. The phone put people and businesses in touch. It put people in touch with other people. For a while. Then something happened.
People got bored of being contactable at any time. Ways were quickly found to stop this from happening. From assistants who answered the phone for you, to eventually machines that answered for you and took a message. Rich people were the first to disappear. Their numbers went ex-directory. They disappeared from view. Behind layers of staff and machines, it became imposssible to get hold of them on the telephone. You could leave a message, but to all but a very few, they had gone.
I think this is going to happen with social networking. Starting at some point very soon, we will see people disappearing from the social networking radar. They will vanish, either through social networking burnout, or through the “I’m too important to exchange pirate-names and chit-chat with you” telephone answering machine effect.