Getting Sucked Back Into Social Media

Black-hole

I can’t say that I was an entirely lonely high schooler, but I was rather limited in my extra curricular activities. The result of having such a strict upbringing was creating an outlet for myself via social media, which was rather dismal compared to the cooperative string of networks and applications we have now. Admittedly I relegated the bulk of my activity to BlackPlanet and dating sites with 14-day free trials, just so I could look at photos of cute boys.

But then I got to college.
Freedom!

In a sense. The option to interact with others in real life and in real time was much preferred over online social networks, chat rooms and free trials. But my connection to social networking never waned. It was an ability to comprehend the underlying structure of social interaction that held my interest. So after starting a career in clinical research, I found myself right back in the midst of social media.

Within a year I was writing and editing at Mashable, spending more time researching the regular happenings of social networks instead of enjoying them. Because of work I found myself observing social networking instead of truly experiencing it. That kind of observation can only get you so far.

So I took a break. Spent some time outside in the sun. Fed ducks at the lake. Perused antique shops. Went rollerblading (I know). And I shared very little of that with my online social networks. It was refreshing in a sense, but disconnecting in another sense. And now that I’ve begun to return to my hyper-active social media lifestyle, I fear for what I will become.

Yet there are so many forces pushing me right back towards social media.

I mean, spend a week away from Facebook. You’ll miss a lot of shared memories, in the immediate. Looking at Halloween photos a week late just seems moot after a certain threshold has been achieved, not to mention the ability for one to recount all the shared memories from friends within their proximate network is a timely and daunting task. There was a time when you had to bring extra film for your camera, take it to a developer, order double prints just in case, and hope it was worth the extra $6.95 because there was no digital preview display of your shots before you took them.

Where did we get the time to constantly check Facebook and Twitter, and consume the shared thoughts vibrating between our screens to our fingertips? How much of your daily time and thought process have you given up to flipping through albums and sharing links across the web? When does the sharing of too much knowledge (in the form of information) become a burden of social norm?

Granted, I am in no way longing for the days of 1-hour photo developing, shopping while I wait at Meijer. I couldn’t be happier about the ability to share photos on Facebook. I think it’s the easiest way to do so on the social web. And there are only a relative few that are more excited about social media’s potential than I am.

But I’m hesitant to jump back into social media full force. I fear the necessity of being glued to my phone, and carrying around my laptop more often. I fear the lack of social awareness I will have due to further decreased social network activity. I fear the disconnect. Either way.

Above all, I fear what this all means for us as a culture. Will our children have different pressures to face in high school? Will they grow up fully aware of social networking ramifications, or is it something that doesn’t really hit any of us until we’re well into our twenties? And now that social networking has become almost fully de-anonymized, will real life wall flowers be encouraged out of their shells thanks to Facebook, or further coaxed in?

So after hours of careful fear-pondering, I realized that I just don’t care. If I miss the last album you uploaded on Facebook, I’m sorry. Show it to me from your phone the next time we hang out. And if I miss a day of intense Twitter-chatting, so be it. We can catch up on all the important stuff when we talk on the phone. Real talk. On the phone.

And all that concern about the social ramifications therein? Social networks still represent an undeniable aspect of human nature, so I consider this all a part of our behavioral evolution. My lesson learned? Be brave enough to balance both worlds.

Mobile Games Are Shrinking My Brain

nokia-n96-mobile-phone-with-second-life-video-game

I love video games. Puzzles, mostly. I was that kid that always had a book of crossword and logic puzzle books in my purse, on my nightstand, in my carry-on luggage. I suppose that need for accessible entertainment carried over into video games, because I couldn’t be happier with the improvement of mobile gaming in the past few years. But maybe it’s becoming a detrimental aspect of my life.

I mean, my phone is always with me. There’s no longer a need to have multiple versions of the same game on multiple devices for multiple places. One little cell phone packs in all the entertainment I need, whether I’m in the car or in the bed. It sometimes takes me hours to fall asleep, and believe me; Backgammon on my cell phone has been my saving grace.

But that right there could be the problem. Maybe it takes me hours to fall asleep because I’m so busy playing Backgammon on my phone. I’ve found myself pulling out my cell phone while in the car with my boyfriend, or at the dinner table. Waiting in line or waiting for a movie to start, I just can’t seem to help myself.

I constantly need to be mentally stimulated and occupied at all times. I can’t even simply watch television. I’ll start playing a game, even in the midst of the most enthralling History channel program. Sure, I think it’s awesome that I can multitask, but I also know there’s no such thing as true and absolute multitasking. Just because I’m doing more than one thing at one time doesn’t mean I’m doing any one thing particularly well.
I think my brain is shrinking. I should probably delete all the games off my cell phone. It’s too damn handy. It’s like My Buddy, or more like Kid Sister. I am a girl, after all. And I’m fearful of the future of mobile devices, because I know how much I’ll always love them and their game-playing capabilities.

Ah, games.

I try to make myself feel better by noting the types of games I’m playing–brain teasers and board games that keep the mind astute. But then I recall my days of high school, and lugging around a book bag before they came with wheels. The front pocket was always full of tiny toys and cutesy trinkets that fit atop my pencil erasers and surely distracted my fellow students and teachers alike. So I guess I’ve always been this way. Always in need of some mental stimulation.

Yet this is the world we live in. There are a lot of businesses that are going to take advantage of people like me, always needing to indulge myself in constant cerebral tinkering. Our culture is full of instant gratification and the mobile phone has brought such joy straight to our pockets. And as I sit back and witness this trend in all its wonder, I’ll be playing Backgammon on my cell phone all the while.

White Flight. The Economy of Facebook and MySpace.

Facebook and MySpace have been at war for years now, with the two major social networks vying for world domination, claiming country by country, demographic by demographic. A recent speech titled “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online” by Danah Boyd of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society begs the question, why does there seem to be a race and class divide when it comes to Facebook and MySpace?

Is Facebook really more elite, with MySpace having become the “ghetto” of online social networking? It’s an interesting question that forces us to look at social networks in a new light. Chris Matyszczyk of CNET likens the shift from MySpace to Facebook to the white flight we see all too often when a once-established neighborhood becomes a little too diverse for its white residents.

An interesting perspective, and one that’s readily able to relate to in American culture. It’s a major part of our history and has been so even before the days of the modern suburbs. But it also speaks to a long history of institutionalized classism as well as racism, which often go hand in hand. Is that really the level of analysis we’re ready to apply to online social networking? If that’s the case, then there are some serious questions we need to be directing to the founders, executives and investors of both MySpace and Facebook.

But first let’s look at the Utopian side of things. Both Facebook and MySpace are online social networks, meaning that they’re virtual pieces of property and can be accessed by anyone that has an Internet connection. Utopia, right? Not really. There was already the long-standing matter of Internet access as it applies to the race/class divide. If you’re a racial minority and economically deterred, then Internet access is a novelty. You are relegated to public access Internet points and your mobile device, which may or may not be a smart phone capable of high functions for social networking.

While the technology divide is narrowing, it becomes less and less of an issue for the purposes of this particular case, but it cannot be entirely ignored, especially as it was still a factor when both MySpace and Facebook were launched and began to gain major traction.

But another factor I find noteworthy is the approach employed by each social network in question; MySpace began as an online tool for getting musicians set up with their own website, while Facebook began as an exclusive network for Harvard students. MySpace came about when the only other major option for widespread social networking was Friendster, which also targeted the college-age demographic. The tactic used for MySpace included posting photos of scantily clad users and enticing new sign ups. Facebook required a confirmed .edu email address just to let you in the front door.

The two strategies towards growth, new user acquisition and existing user retention are vastly different and inherently attract different crowds. So is this race/class divide self-selecting or in fact more institutional? If the trend is self-selecting then we can attribute much of the world’s view on these social networks to be indicative of current mentality for those that use the networks. We can also expect to see some changes with both MySpace and Facebook. Perhaps Facebook will too become a dated neighborhood, run down by the “wrong crowd” and witness another white flight to the next hot spot. And that hot spot would likely be a revived and gentrified MySpace, full of nostalgia and gritty determination to be hip.

We’d also be able to apply these theories to other social networks, and I don’t think online social networking has been around long enough to draw any solid conclusions in that regard. This is mainly because very different strategies are applied to each social network that is launched, and many of the social networks we’ve seen in the past decade have been rather niche. From LinkedIn to BlackPlanet, you can expect a different crowd no matter where you go. There will almost always be a different crowd with a different objective. Fortunately these are all factors that Boyd studies in her ongoing work and research in social media.

What’s disappointing is the fact that these strategies can ultimately lead to an overwhelming sense of distinction based on race and class, especially when you think of the business concerns revolving around the spending power of the actual demographics on MySpace and Facebook versus the widespread perception that could either deter or encourage the stimulation of an economy around each network. From developer apps to advertising campaigns, the affect that race and class distinctions have on any business is real.

What Comes After Facebook?

horseapoc

I came across a Facebook look-alike the other day and it reminded me of that era of constant clone creation, where every other site that was submitted for review seemed to be a carbon copy of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter. We don’t see such clones very often anymore, namely because there’s little purpose in creating a standalone destination site. It’s cheaper, faster and more efficient to build an application that runs on the platform of a larger, already established social network, such as Facebook.

In fact, Facebook has really set the standards for the integrated social network platform, as it enables developers to leverage users’ social graphs for gaining new users, creating interactive applications, and building brand recognition. You know, the true nature of viral online activity within the realm of absolute social networking.

So will we ever see a return to standalone social networking destination sites? The application route via integrated platforms has already proven itself as a business model. We all held our breath to see how developers, users and investors would respond to Facebook’s platform, and once applications started to receive funding and become acquisition targets, we had our proof of concept. From then on, we’ve seen the steady growth of other platforms created for advertising and monetizing applications within these integrated platforms, some of which are cross-network or network-agnostic. The current outcropping of virtual goods monetization only spurs the revenue-generating potential of integrated social network platforms, with Facebook still at the center of it all.
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The Cure for Social Media Fatigue

I’ve been covering the social media news as a blogger for over four years now, most of that as a full-time blogger. Actually, most of that was more than full-time. Blogging takes up more than enough hours in my day. And I get tired. Sometimes I can’t think of many good things to say about social media. Consider it social media fatigue.

I take that as my cue to treat myself to a welcome distraction. A good friend of mine once told me that distractions help you focus. It didn’t make sense a the time, but I’ve since learned that the statement rings true. Let loose once in a while, and when it’s time to get back to work you’ll be better able to focus. It’s a mini mind vacation.

What I find truly helpful however is taking the time during my mini mind vacations to branch out and expand my mind. Do something different and take the opportunity to learn something new. It actually helps me do my job better, because it allows me to gain perspective on various topics.
Doing something simple like watching an educational (or veg-out) program on television, or going to a new museum exhibit can enable you to tap into a piece of culture that you may have otherwise missed. And believe me, it can actually allow you to understand your own work better.

Change is good for the brain and the soul, and can aide you in making new neural connections that improve your functionality in work and play. So regardless of what your career is, take time to learn a few new things during your mini mind vacation. It will help you out at work, your next cocktail party, and it will help keep you sane.

Image credit: SlashSeconds

Time for Personal Change, Too

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my personal blog, which is a shame, I know.  But nevertheless, here we are. A lot has changed in the past few months.  I have parted ways with Mashable.com, and have gone on to freelance for other great publications like VentureBeat.  Now I’m working with Nick ONeill over at allfacebook.com and socialtimes.com.

After taking some personal and health time for myself, I’m gearing up for a great year in 2009, despite all the changes that have taken place in my life and with the overall state of affairs, namely the economy which has undoubtedly effected the blogosphere.  There are a couple of other project I’m working on, which you’ll be hearing more about in the coming months.

One project in particular is Soceeo.com, which has been doing extremely well this year.  I’m glad to have been able to have a small part in working with founder Emile Cambry on Soceeo.com when I had the chance, and if you’d like to hear more about this service, please head over to the founder’s blog, which can be found here. I thank everyone for the support they’ve shown me during my time of transition, and recognize the true blessings that have found their way into my life.  And, I’ll try to update my blog more often!  Smooches,

Online Social Media, Returning Us to American Colonialism.

If you look at the progression of social norms in the past two centuries, you’ll see a significant lax in the way in which we consider accepted public and private behavior. Chalk it up to the melting pot, which introduced new religious and familial perspectives into American society, or the simple evolution of human nature.

I’m more inclined to consider a handful of the overarching effects of industrialism, which enabled the economic and structural support of large populations within a metropolitan area, and the ability for an entire society to move beyond the basic necessities of a family-based “political” structure that was dominant in colonial America.

colonies

colonies

Smaller towns often limited their residents to one religion, and were far more involved in each other’s lives, for economic purposes. There wasn’t nearly as much privacy as we have today, and the scientific advances (and their subsequent adoption) catalyzed by industrialism freed up our time and presented more forms of entertainment that weren’t available to those living in colonial days.

So what’s that mean? Pretty much everyone knew everyone else’s business. It was a very involved system of checks and balances that ruled society during American colonialism, and the effect of social castration was a notion powerful enough to keep a lot of people in line. To a large extent, this still takes place today. Think back to high school where everything mattered, from your outfit to the person you dated. Even your office environment can lead to unspoken social influence, depending on your interests (which lead to topics of discussion–or lack thereof), and a number of other behavioral expressions which could inevitably lump you into one niche or another.

The word niche is inextricably linked to the current online culture and social media, because of the way in which web-based networks enable individuals to meet other like-minded individuals, and form groups from there. But as social networks become more mainstream and interwoven into each other, the likeliness of other people knowing your business increases significantly.

There are privacy settings on networks like Facebook, but even with these set in place, there are certain actions one may take without realizing the full implications. Even the mere act of reversing or modifying a particular status on a social networking profile can have the same social effect as not having had the privacy settings installed in the first place.

HPStudents

image credit: HPStudents

If you’re a college student that has enjoyed a public stream of activity flowing through Facebook, but quickly takes advantage of Facebook’s privacy settings upon graduation, your friends will notice the limited amount of information flowing from your profile, and perhaps even their restricted access to your information all together. If you’ve mistakenly said something on Twitter and would like to delete this tweet, the statement is gone from your Twitter stream but may still be present across the various accounts (i.e. FriendFeed) that redistribute your content.

As syndication and redistribution of content becomes more commonplace amongst social networking sites, the ability to remain aware of the ripples of each of your actions is weakened, and it becomes a lot more difficult to maintain whatever online persona you may like to portray, even if only for a 10 minute time span. If there’s someone on AIM you don’t want to talk to, you can go invisible on AIM and GChat, but did you forget to change your auto-start Skype settings and mark yourself as invisible there as well? If you’ve told everyone, including your coworkers, that your sick and won’t be available online for the day, will your co-workers wonder what’s going on when they see the last 10 songs you favorited on last.fm?

It may not seem like it, but these things have a growing effect on people’s behavior, whether they encourage people to use privacy settings, or deter people from taking certain action all together. The act of admitting that your whirlwind romance didn’t work out by changing your relationship status on Facebook has actually led some users to disable their Facebook accounts all together.

It’s an interesting effect that social media has, that very much mimics the close-quarter environment that influenced behavior in the days of American colonialism. What will be quite interesting to watch is the way in which social software is deeloped in response to larger social implications such networks have.