Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Social Media a Fad?

Fads are temporary attractions. It comes suddenly, generates an adrenaline rush for a while, before it exits. Fads happen to grab attention and create a buzz. However, after all the excitement, people go back to what they normally do. With the sudden popularity of social networking media like Facebook, Twitter and others, some people start to question whether these are also fads. The well made video below says no. Looking at the statistics on the video, we will find it difficult to argue against the 'people-driven' social economy.

Websites like 'Church Blog Theory' are starting to ask if social networking is here to stay. The video above is part of the promotion for the book called Socialnomics. Hence, I am not surprised by the passionate arguments that the author is making that social networking is here to stay.

My Comments
I think social networking will be here for a while. It is a way people communicate with one another, just like the telephones since they were invented. Judging from the trend how emails replace telephone calls and fax messages, social networking is fast replacing emails as the communication of choice. The crux of the matter is this. People desire to know others, and be known. In an age where efficiency, productivity, costs and technical speed are worshiped, people will choose the medium that optimizes all four aspects of communications.
  • Efficiency: If it gets the work done the way I want it, use it;
  • Productivity: If it gets results according to my plans, use it;
  • Costs: If it is cheap or free, use it;
  • Speed: If it is fast and effective, use it.
I dare say that social networking is the electronic fast-food of the new era. Anyone familiar with Fast-Food will be familiar with fastfood style electronic communication. Technology is fast becoming popular and pervasive because people have been exposed to fast-food syndrome since young.  Think McDonald's Happy Meals etc.

Such a phenomena is coined by George Ritzer as the 'McDonaldization of Society.' According to Ritzer,
"McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world." (George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society, NY: Sage, 2004, p1)

The McDonaldization of Society 5I think Ritzer's observation can be applied to the electronic media as well. The reason why social networking is so popular is because it works. It is fast. It is cheap. It is efficient (people get updates instantaneously). It is highly productive (try looking for long lost friends). All of these factors reflect the fast-food society that we are all familiar with. So what's the future? Maybe faster-food society?

In conclusion, I think the video does highlight some important observations. Yet, I do not believe that it will stay that way for long. Things like Facebook and Twitter will be overtaken by others, especially if they do not keep up with the changing environment, or the social and psychological movement of culture and society.  regardless of what the video above advocates, I think any media, even social media, will need to keep up with what is going on in the metanarratives of modern society in order to be relevant. Otherwise, they will be a fad. Already there are many who are contemplating quitting Facebook altogether. It is a growing movement and I think it spells the beginning of the end of the Facebook fad. Yet, something else is more troubling. Whatever the new substitute for social media, I hope it will be something that enables people to communicate purposefully, with a firm understanding that both good AND bad information can be communicated quickly, efficiently and cheaply. I hope whatever new media will not be the domain of any one particular social group, but something that people of all ages can comfortably use. Keep it simple. Keep it meaningful. Remember, social media is only a tool. Keep it that way. If social networking is a form of electronic fast-food, remember that too much calories can kill relationships too.



Rosie Perera said...

Here's a recent article from Wired about the emergence of open some alternatives to Facebook: Open Facebook Alternatives Gain Momentum, $115K

It will be interesting to watch what comes of these. I would be glad to switch to an alternative of FB. I'm not comfortable with the direction the company has been moving, and that a company with such a huge installed base and so much control is run by a 25-year-old brat who has strange attitudes about privacy.

YAPdates said...

It's increasingly a 'people-driven' economy out there. For companies, it is the 'law of the eyeballs.' They want their sites to go viral and jack up their advertising revenue (and profits).

Alternatives or not, I guess people are generally not comfortable for any one company or organization seeking 'world domination.' I remember lots of people hating Microsoft for their monopoly, and now Apple is getting some flak as well; or the Big Oil companies and others.

I wonder if the monastic movement has anything to say about Facebook?


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