Social by Interruption vs Social On-Demand

20 May, 2011 07:49AM · 3 minute read

In recent times I’ve been thinking about what makes Facebook and Twitter so popular as social networking devices. Sure there are the games (on Facebook) and the brief snippets of other peoples thoughts, sharing of photos and videos and so on, but I think the single reason it has become popular is due to that fundamental human truth: we are all lazy.

That truth drives innovation: “There must be a better way”  “We can devise a machine to do that menial task for us”  Why? Because we would rather kick back and have a nice cold drink because we are lazy.

In recent times this seems to have now extended to our social lives as well. In the past we would walk, ride, drive to a friends/neighbours house for a nice social evening with drinks and a game or two or three. Times changed and the games evolved: Chess, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, pick whichever you like. Now we have social networking to fill that gap. From the comfort of your own home you can sit down with friends over Facebook and play the modern scrabble equivalent. Compete against your friends for the best scores in some game or other and chat with them disjointedly sentence by sentence.

This has driven another interesting social change: the casual conversation. No longer are you stuck in a room with another person where both parties feel obligated to talk about anything to fill up the air time. The art of small talk is beginning to wither and fade. Why? At any time you can walk away from your Twitter or Facebook or any one of dozens of instant messaging alternatives including mobile phone SMSes. Leaving a conversation halfway through is becoming acceptable - you’re far too busy these days for a full, long conversation right?

Therein lies the truth: we like the convenience of social networking online because it is on-demand. People only get our undivided attention when we choose it. When one walks into a room to talk to someone it becomes quite difficult to avoid the conversation without losing face, but when online these messages are easily lost when it’s understood that the other person is just too busy. Alternatively they’re just too busy and people think they’re being snubbed. But I digress.

Social networking is not going away and it’s not a fad. It will only get stronger and more pervasive. What that means in the long term however I fear it will lead to less social interaction and the further erosion of manners and etiquette in conversation.

Thankfully it’s not all bad news. There’s one great thing social photo sharing has achieved for us all.  No longer are we stuck in a small room having to sit through someone elses holiday photo albums.