Is Social Media Unsocial?

Written by Meagan Lopez
Published on Dec. 23, 2010
Is Social Media Unsocial?

The biggest problem with “social media” is that it doesn't always live up to its name. Physically, it can't; psychologically, it won't.

I see how social media has opened up new possibilities for small companies in remote locations and connected like-minded people across the world. And I understand the excitement that follows viral media campaigns such as the late-night food truck phenomenon in many cities (now a sitcom in development) or any number of YouTube ad campaigns.

Even with the midVenturesLAUNCH conference, the excitement continues to build daily with hundreds of retweets of our original tweet from this past September: Hear from the founders of @groupon, @reddit, @okcupid, and @mint at @midVentures:

My personal experience with social media has been incredible: solid relationships formed through Twitter; excursions in London and Oxford with other expat bloggers; a flight halfway across the world to swap lives with a French student whom I met in a chat room. I have many friends who have met their life partners through various social media applications. (How else could my friend George find another gay man in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, without the help of Gaydar? And, I'm not talking about his intuition.)

But have these social media applications made all these connections a little less spontaneous? A little less surprising? A bit less real? Are we too busy looking down to notice what's happening right in front of us? (This isn't a new thought, but don't worry, there's more.)

Even, which aims to make business networking smart by matching you with people you should meet rather than people you already know, takes away the natural inclination for compatible humans to gravitate towards one another.

In 2005, when I was walking down a back alley in Amsterdam having just experienced Ann Frank's house for the first time, the last people I expected to bump into were my former co-workers from Los Angeles. Yet, there they were! It was a rush, a thrill and oh, so random.

If I had had my iPhone in hand, following my friends on Foursquare, and I already knew they were in Amsterdam, would I have over-thought and avoided them altogether? After all, isn't the point of living in Europe to assimilate with the culture and get away from fellow Americans?

On the one side, social media applications are making it cool again to get out and about. People want to brag. They yearn to share their locations, their participation in events and their excitement for a new restaurant or activity. Rather than playing Nintendo on their Power Pad in the basement, this generation is getting out and talking about it. That's huge.

On the other hand, bumping into my old roommate in the terminal at JFK International a few weeks ago wouldn't have happened had I been plugged in and updating my Facebook status.

That brings me to my final point. Social media applications and technology as they are right now are physically antisocial. Staring at a screen or typing on a keyboard is, by definition, the epitome of unsocial behavior. We need connecting to become simpler, more streamlined, even more prediction-based.
It's great people are getting out now, but they need to be out and present in the moment. Social media needs to develop to the point where the media part is minimized and the social aspect is maximized.

This means less time spent actually using social media web and mobile applications, but still getting the same amount of information delivered to you that we get from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc., today. Interaction will become less tangible perhaps, and more inferred, delivered through a different medium.
What will this new medium be? Perhaps audial, visual or sensory. You are walking down the street and a voice chip embedded in your ear tells you who to speak to at the corner cafe. Who knows?

I'm not saying that social media is completely antisocial. All I'm saying is that right now, it's too hard to be both in the moment and up-to-date using current social media apps. And we need to develop an alternative.

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