Surrogate Forms Of Socializing

The other day I was chatting with a few colleagues over lunch about the almost scary rise of Facebook upon our digital landscape. “Facebook is everywhere”; “Everyone is on Facebook”; “Facebook is becoming bigger and more powerful than Google”. “Our clients all want Facebook tied into their digital presence”. One of my co-workers jumps into the conversation and says, quite bluntly, that social media is becoming a substitution for physical interaction where it seems people increasingly prefer the safety and relative anonymity of Facebook and other digital social media tools to real face-to-face communication.

The analogy one of my colleagues used was the science fiction movie Surrogates in which people have become almost disconnected from their physical bodies in favor of cybernetically connected façades (avatars) as the primary form of social interaction. In this and other science fiction stories the human condition is depicted as inextricably intertwined and reliant upon neural computer networks causing people live in prolonged zombie-like states of technological perversion, unable to venture out into the real world and make any physical connections with other people or their environment.

Apart from these dystopian views of the future, the popularized notion is that at some point our physical bodies will become redundant and our brains will exist only as containers to send and receive data within grotesque all-life-encompassing, all-immersive digital constructs. Perhaps this is an implausible path for our human existence.

Then again, when I read we’re becoming a culture of distraction and that we’re living in an age where the diminished value of social media elevates Facebook-friending and Twitter-following casual acquaintances above the desire to know our neighbours down the street, I wonder what the word friendship will mean 20 years from now.

Does Facebook undermine the true meaning of friendship?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years you’ll of course be cognizant of Facebook’s rapidly expanding ecosystem, becoming arguably the most pervasive social media platform of our age. I use the word ecosystem because we’re beginning to see digital infrastructures emerging around media consumption, advertising, and mobile applications, all built on the Facebook platform.

At OSL where I work, it is becoming clear Facebook and other digital communities are beginning to play a vital role in virtually all of our client marketing and communication efforts. It now seems almost laughable to talk about building a successful digital marketing strategy without including at least some rudimentary social media integration -be it Facebook Connect or setting up an official Twitter feed for your company, product or service. And there seems to be an almost overnight push to make literally every piece of digital communication (that is, every Web page we build) part of this new social ecosystem with interactive add-on components like the popular ShareThis and AddThis widgets.

In terms of the bigger picture, most notably I think we’re starting to see the monetization of Facebook as a viable advertising platform for products, brands, and services. As the Facebook user-base grows and matures well beyond 500 million I imagine we’ll start to see more innovative digital campaigns incorporating things like mobile APIs using geolocation and branded augmented realities to create more personalized and captivating experiences.

Still, while I do take a somewhat critical view of social media -particularly Facebook, in the first part of this post,  I do generally feel most people are able to self-moderate their usage to appropriate levels and balance digital conversations with face-to-face conversations; digital relationships with human relationships.

If there’s one thing I was reaffirmed attending last week’s FITC conference, it’s that there is no substitute for the dynamism of a real face-to-face talk (at least not yet); and, digital social media exists not as a replacement, but as an evolutionary supplement to our social environment. But ultimately it’s up to all of us how these technologies impact our lives.

5 thoughts on “Surrogate Forms Of Socializing

  1. Thanks so much for this post.
    I am on facebook and I do text a lot. I enjoy interacting with my friends/family across the globe. I love to keep connected, see pictures and feel that I am part of an ever growing global community.
    While I see the advantages to social networking, I also see a disconnect that social networking can create for some people, specifically kids and teenagers.
    While completing my Masters of Social Work at the University of Toronto in 2004, I was fortunate to take a course in cyberbullying. At that point, it was only a small percentage of students who were the victims of such cruelty. However, due to social networking such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and texting, the rates of cyberbullying has grown at an alarming rate. As we all know, cyberbullying can have devastating effects.
    Aside from cyberbullying, some youth drop out of school because they do not have the social skills to function in a mainstream school and they live in a world of online gaming and internet addiction. These youth can be at risk of not graduating from high school and becoming adults struggling with fitting in to the social norms of society.

    As a social worker who works in the school system, many of the students I have worked with suffer from anxiety/depression. Empirically based research from Children’s Mental Health Ontario and The Canadian Association for Mental Health (CAMH), state that 1 in 5 or 10.2 % of children up to the age of 24 have or will suffer from anxiety/depression. On line gaming addiction and cyberbullying are two risk factors for anxiety/depression. For a youth who suffers from anxiety/depression as an adult, they have a high likelihood that they will struggle in relationships, being able to work and overall daily functioning. It can paralyze a person’s ability to lead a normal life.

    In conclusion, I will argue that while social networking can be an amazing tool on so many fronts, it does have its imperfections. I would strongly suggest a great book, titled Boys Adrift, By Dr. Leonard Sax a psychologist from the US who argues the importance for boys to function in the real world in order for them to be successful in school and beyond. It is a must read.
    Social Networking is here to stay, but parents, community, policy makers and schools also need to ensure that our children learn how to function in the real world – something that can not be replaced by a computer or a smart phone. Our children deserve it. These are just my thoughts…

  2. Interesting Darryl… from my viewpoint… social is simply a tool which permits and amplifies the connection between people. Those that speak of social becoming intrusive to the point of ‘personal connection destruction’ clearly are not involved in the social space… or are socially inept… hence unable to create digitally social connections because they are not able to create social connections in the flesh.

    Social is nothing new. As a child I remember my mother talking for hours on the phone to 1 person. Or getting together with 2 or 3 friends in the afternoon. Social took a lot of time back then. And my moms mom… she took hours and hours to write letters to 2 or 3 friends. Today, in 1 hour my wife will connect with 20-40 people on Facebook, update her status which tells hundreds of people, then text with 2 or 3 people and finally talk to 1 person for awhile on the phone. She gets together with people way more often than my mother did… and more importantly she is meeting more new people than my mother ever did.

    Social is simply a tool that enables the efficient management of connections. It is not a movement, it has always been there… always important to us as humans… we just have new tools… better tools than writing a letter or picking up the phone. Technology will not stop innovating, in fact, the speed in which new tools are being created and adopted is growing exponentially. We have just started.

    my 2 cents 🙂 http://twitter.com/_ian_barnett

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