At the risk of labelling myself a party pooper, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with how the Internet – particularly social media – is getting gated and creepy.
All the big players today – the Apples and Facebooks and Googles – seem determined to lock us into one online property, one tool, and/or one service, none of which plays nicely with the other kids. If they play, it’s only with reluctance.
Sometimes overtly, but just as often covertly, they link us to their various tools and services in ways few of us understand, tracking us and manipulating what we do and see in ways they hope will allow them to generate revenue, one way or another.
The bloom is off the rose where social media is concerned.
The digitizing of all aspects of life looks more and more like the kind of dystopian world so many science fiction books have described. By contrast, there is the way the Internet has always been described: democratic, freeing and unifying.
The reality is far from that. Our online communities are more tribal than inclusive and are as much about who doesn’t belong as they are about who does. The freeing of information in practice is a glut of mind-numbing trivia streaming without cessation. Content is a commodity that has been monetized, quality taking a back seat to quantity because we’re less interested in meaning than we are in the impact on search results.
What the hell happened to the Internet?
The answer is simple: it became a business. It became popular and thus went corporate and now lives more in spreadsheets and databases than in the real world. Now we are less interested in the tactile world we live in and what technology might allow us to do than in Facebook’s share price.
All is not lost, however. Everything related to the Internet, be it web sites, social media or something else, is dependent on our attention and that has a remarkable way of waning. While we may be trapped in a box we call Facebook or iTunes or Google, when something new and nifty comes along we abandon those boxes like milk cartons after the best before date has passed.
Individually, I’m reminded of what Bruce Springsteen once said about the two best days of his life. The first was when he picked up the guitar. The second was when he learned to put it down.
I’ve no desire to abandon social media and the Internet. But I believe I’ve learned to put them down. As Springsteen found, the world beyond holds so much more for me.
I’m frustrated with the increasingly gated and creepy aspects of online life. (Creepy as in the privacy dimension.) This trend came about back when the Internet became all business. (Remember the days of the first iteration of portals? The new Internet is very much like the old Internet.) It’s due to business wanting to grab as much of the market as possible and shut out any potential competition.
That aspect now dominates all aspects of digital life and is why even grandmothers talk about social media in terms of share price and IPOs.
It’s also why so much of it has become dull, dull, dull. The wonder is gone. A commoditized tool is all that remains.
(Follow up: Right after posting this I went to Google+ only to discover that last night I posted from my iPhone and Google went and included a map of the location where I was at the time.
Yes, I know. My location services for Google+ was set on, something I don’t recall doing. But seriously … Shouldn’t the default for everything be off and/or shouldn’t a pop up ask if you want to send that information? Why on earth would I want to tell the world where I am? I’m not that sociable.)