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.