By D.A. Forbes
An embedded activist Skypes about atrocities in Aleppo. The Gates Foundation tweets about the benefits of Kangaroo Child Care in the third world. The Huffington Post peddles the latest and greatest idiocy from 21-year-old circus clown, Miley Cyrus.
For better or for worse, this is social media.
FaceMash was a short-lived social site launched in 2003. Photos of two Harvard students appeared on screen, and users judged whether hot-or-not. At face value, this is nothing more than creepy nonsense developed by some Ivy League asswipe. Today, the same little asswipe calls 1.2 billion people his friends - friends who peek through the living room windows of those with whom they may or may not be, well, friends. How ironic that someone like Zuckerberg, with the social acumen of cement, holds the keys to the world's most socially active media kingdom.
Truth is, this virtual universe is rife with contradiction, conundrums and cons. The very moniker, "social media" is a by-product of the society of the redundancy society. What would the point of media be were it not social? A Facebook without friends? A Twitter without followers? An anchorman without an audience? Just ask CNN.
Forbes ran a piece back in 2010 that addressed how the term was likely given wings in the early 90's by AOL founder, Steve Case and another company exec as they constructed a virtual platform whereby people could chat - voila, AOL Instant Messenger. Thusly, social media flew from the womb and stuck like gorilla glue to our collective consciousness.
Stripped of its guise, however, social media is brandish, brackish bunk acutely positioned for technologists to monitor our goings on in order to gather market intelligence and sell widgets or worse. Yes, such platforms can be meritorious. But for fuck's sake, this train is barely out of the station. If we have learned anything, it's that the lion's share of "best new thing" web ventures are likely to be as fleeting as Kim and Kanye's marriage.
A technarcissist contributor to Social Media Today, the absurdly self-appointed "world's best thinkers on social media," wrote, "There are five trends that you need to be on the lookout for when creating your marketing plans in the coming year..." (A gazillion such pronouncements are availed each day. But, carry on, sir.) "...a new survey commissioned by Adobe of 1,000 US marketers shows that marketers are most concerned about reaching customers and being able to understand whether their campaigns are working and effective."
Marketers concerned about effectively reaching customers? What a concept. Good job, Adobe. Time and money well spent. And thanks for sharing the breaking news with us, Mr. World's Best Social Media Thinker.
The point is, what the hell's the point of all this? We're hamsters driving Kias. We suckle the teets of our social devices as if disengaging would cause the world to cease spinning on its axis. More and more stats illustrate how folks see the real world through the lens of the virtual world. Yet, we are absolutely not a more productive, more fortified people because of social living and marketing. If anything, we are a public growing woefully disengaged from our flesh and blood neighbor, from our terra firma, from our raison d'etre.
I worked in hi-tech through the 90's and into the turn of the century. I was a marketing executive at a boutique consulting firm that helped regional and global enterprises navigate the murky marketing waters of an emerging technological realm called "converged communications" - syncing computers and mobile devices so that users could be wholly connected to data and each other. Sound familiar? Admittedly, it was exciting on some level. The big, big world seemed to suddenly become a small world after all.
Yet here we are today, propitiously propped up with our metal boxes that manage our every engagement like some panacea for the increasingly inert. Except the panacea is more like crack. You know, that thing the Mayor of Toronto smokes between council meetings.
Social media and marketing evangelists are the viral crack dealers of the masses. Social tools are visceral drugs that send us into a very slippery slipstream. Geek-speak gurus constantly promote their crackerjack machinations. They compel corporations to worship at the alter of social analytics. They push us average Joes and Jills to get all Lady GaGa over cleverly crafted content. But the truth is, all of this can be boiled to a very simple equation: somebody wants something that somebody else has. One Cro Mag cozies up to another because he figured out how to start a fire. And because he's bored.
Is this what progress looks like? Will we eventually communicate solely with our thumbs instead of our mouths? Will Harvard be the next University of Phoenix? Will future Presidents get elected based on the their number of Facebook friends? Will children grow up without looking up at the sky?
Life before Facebook was much quieter. 1.2 billion friends yapping on about their funny cats or their cranky kids or their fart ringtones can get quite noisy. We pass time in this dirty little sandbox awaiting guidance from self-appointed generals who will guide us into the next generation of must-have do-dads that enable us to do, well, whatever it is we do.
I think I'm gonna take a little break tonight and enjoy a few beers with friends. No, no, not the kind you have on Facebook. I'm talking about the real ones. The ones who will probably be too busy texting their other friends to hang out with me.