And for a very, very brief moment I consider simply unfollowing every single person I’m currently following on Twitter and FriendFeed, deleting every RSS entry in my feed reader along with my blogroll, and changing my email addresses. But then, after I’ve insulted or offended people right and left, who would read my blog? After all, that’s why I got into this social networking thing in the first place: to acquire more readers and widen the audience of people who read what I write.
Because, you see, that’s ultimately the allure of social networking. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all believe our lives are fascinating; that every website that’s captured our interest should hold equal appeal to those who know us; and that other people — whether we’ve met them in meat space or cyberspace — need to be informed of not only our latest thoughts as expressed in our blog entries, but even the minutia of our day as captured in 140 words or less on Twitter. And woe to our “friends” who don’t agree.
It’s as if, having been told throughout our childhood by our mothers and teachers that we’re special, we not only believe it but are now determined to convince everyone else of that fact, too. Oh, we call it “social networking,” but there’s nothing truly social about the endless stream of data we’re putting out about ourselves, our lifestreams, as they’re sometimes called. The web, which once existed as a place to which we turned primarily to acquire information about diverse topics, is now primarily a forum for us to put out information on the topic which fascinates us the most: ourselves.
The fact that we call people who read our lifestreams our “friends” or “fans” or “followers” shows how very un-social all this social networking really is. There are no distinctions between true friends and the rest of the masses in social networking. “Friends” are anyone who likes us enough to follow the minutia of our lives. And those we’ve known for years who don’t find our endless stream of entries and disjointed thoughts fascinating? Those who’ve succumbed, as many have, to Facebook fatigue? Well, by social networking definition, they aren’t friends or fans or followers.
There was a time when I — along with millions of others — went online in search of information that I couldn’t otherwise access. Now, between blogging and social networking, online time is about putting out information about ourselves. Back then, the stereotype of a typical internet user was that of a geek sitting at a keyboard chugging down Diet Coke and eating Doritos, a modern-day hermit whose anti-social tendencies led him or her to withdraw from the real world in favor of practically living online.
These days? That geek’s still at the keyboard just as often, if not more so, but now instead of that time being anti-social it’s spent in a form of frenzied, 24/7 hyper-socializing in which he or she constantly transmits every thought and event to an “audience” consisting of people all too easily considered friends. Except that they’re not. These very people with whom we’ve shared so many mundane details of our lives might seem to know us as well as offline friends, but they don’t. They can’t. Because, just as we’re so busy emitting our own lifestream data, they’re doing the same.
Groucho Marx once said of social clubs, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
I’m beginning to think that way of social networks, myself. Having just spent another morning of my life reading the most boring details of other people’s mornings, I’ve realized how very little things like Twitter, FaceBook, or FriendFeed actually contribute to one’s life: it’s more like sitting in a room full of over-caffeinated narcissistic Tourette’s patients with ADHD who are all trying to be the most entertaining. And, really, what’s so social about a monologue?