Is a Social Crash Coming

Internet Time

Social networks push human interaction to the utmost limits. In a comment I left at Julien Smith’s blog, I talked about how time and friendship are being distorted by the Internet. I want to elaborate on the ideas, and also talk about the math.

Internet Time and Interactions

In the old days, we’d see friends when we saw them. We’d write or call now and again as well. The frequency of touch was far less often than today. With social tools, we have far more opportunity for frequency of touch, and it’s amplified by the fact that a lot of that touch is broadcast-style. Let me explain.

Old days: I’d see you at a family event. We’d talk. I’d send a letter or call you some time after that. We’d not see each other for months.
New days: I post something on Facebook or Twitter. You see it. I don’t say something directly TO you, but you remember that I’m still out there. You realize that it’s been a while since we talked directly.

The difference in these two interactions is in how the unintentional brushing past of my digital self stirs up the realization that we haven’t connected directly lately. It’s a reminder. It’s a statement that we haven’t had meaningful contact of a one-to-one sense in a while.

In thinking about this, I started doing some math. It really sheds some light on the complexities of our new digital lives.

Human Math

  • If I talk to 100 people on twitter for 6 minutes each, that’s 10 hours.

  • If I respond personally to 120 of the 600 or so emails and contacts I get a day, that’s 2 hours.
  • If I call 10 people for six minutes each to “catch up,” that’s another hour.

100 small Twitter conversations.
120 emails.
10 phone calls.

13 hours.

That’s not work. That’s not necessarily business (though touch and networking aids business). That’s just contact.

13 hours a day on just that.

And that’s just 100 or so people. That’s not the 146,000 Twitter followers, the 58,000 RSS subscribers, the 11,000 LinkedIn connections, the 4550 Facebook friends, that I have right now.

That’s 100 or so people.

Is a Social Crash Coming?

We’re going to have to start contenting ourselves with more “ambient connectivity.” I think that lots of us already do understand and accept this. I believe that the frequency of touch requirements of the hyperconnected are much lower than the average human out there.

But that sure raises an issue, doesn’t it?

In a world where the hyperconnected accept and understand “ambient connectivity,” but where the rest of our connections and friends from the “real world” don’t, what will that do to relationships of all kinds? How will that translate?

Is there a much more painful crash before us? A social crash?

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  • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

    I’m not sure that that many people have “the Chris Brogan problem,” to put it bluntly. The vast majority of people maintain networks of under 150 people (so Dunbar tells us), and for them, social networking is simply another communications touchpoint. In other words, before Twitter and Facebook, they had the phone – but I don’t think anyone feels obligated to call everyone they know, every day – do you? Your 13 hours of contact might be the realistic work of a month, not a day, for 99% of us. Social networks do not add to this obligation – they merely facilitate communications.

    Some of us are, however, hyperconnected, to use your term. It’s hard to see that as anything more than filter failure, though. If the hyperconnected resort to being more “ambiently connected,” then their network of friends will naturally self-select to retain those for whom ambient connectivity is sufficient, and will over time shed those for whom the occasional drive-by tweet is a poor substitute for the connections shared by most people. This also happens when gradually we begin to call those old college roommates less often, to be replaced by new coworkers and parents of your children’s friends.

    I think where I sit on this is that I agree with you that there will be a correction, but I don’t see this as an evolutionary leap – a moment of punctuated equilibrium that disaggregates societal norms and re-aggregates around a new standard for interpersonal relationships. Rather, I think social networks are simply a new collection point for people who already have hyperconnected communication preferences – those who already tended towards more, let’s call them, “ambient” connections.

    It may be that the correction you suggest will be the individual discovery that the ease of acquiring “friends” online is a lot like the ease of acquiring free music for our ever-expanding, bloated iTunes collections that we never listen to. We simply hoarded too many “friends.” And that is probably less social crash than personal epiphany.

    Just my .02 from the middle of the bell curve :)

  • http://twitter.com/inboxgroup Inbox Group

    Chris, It’s funny I was thinking of a post about Social Media Networks becoming the Ghost Towns of the Internet with time as people pull back and take their lives back to a managable level.

    Cheers, Chris Donald

  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog hhotelconsult

    I keep returning to the concept of time dilation, and distorted time. Whenever you are online, people are “repping” their personal “brand” like they are on vacation all the time… looking as if they are in glorious places, etc. It’s almost dehumanizing… here I am creating a small business, working longer hours than I did property level at hotels… and everyone is on vacation, everyone is lollygagging… posting comments, posting blog responses, etc.

    It’s not like that… like Mr. Brogan doing tons to put the family first…. you can’t see that he has reprioritized his life, or reorganized his schedule….

    all you see is that he is posting consuming and philosophical concepts about social media. It’s easy to make wayward, offhanded assumptions about how people use their time, or what they are doing.

    I don’t mean deliberate assumptions… I mean casual, subtle assumptions that you don’t even realize you are making. It affects the ego, and mind. It’s unavoidable.

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  • Chelseabeasley

    This has been a huge problem for me. Ever since my mother figured out how to use GChat, I find myself going several weeks without calling her, because i feel as though I have been “in touch” with her via chat. After several months of this, it is easy to feel disconnected. I don’t think that email, twitter, etc can replace real human communication. But then again, is talking on the phone real human communication? Or does it just feel more real because we’ve been using it for much longer?

  • http://www.mitchellfanning.com Mitch Fanning

    i won’t lie. no easy solution in the time I have to respond to your comment (~6 min). Just kidding :) All joking aside, not necessarily a bad program to have. Thanks for taking the time to respond. MF

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  • http://twitter.com/stales Alicia C. Staley

    yes, we’re heading for a huge crash. and it’s going to be interesting how it all shakes out. It was bound to happen. and it’s gonna happen alot sooner than people think.

  • http://twitter.com/aaronsu Aaron Unnasch

    You ask a good question…..”what will that do to relationships of all kinds?”. @kerryshook is challenging the nation to set social technology aside for one day, 8/25, to focus on our most important relationships. He’s not bashing social technology with the National Facebook Fast. Just encouraging us to spend one day being intentional about getting face-to-face with those we love most. Inviting you and your followers to participate.

  • http://www.philrichards.biz/ Phil Richards

    Thanks Chris,
    It is a great question for sure. I still think that targeting to build depth in relationships is key, and business is won by developing relationships, person to person one at a time.
    The connections issue, well my thoughts are that we are tending to connect with people “in the moment” so we step in and out of whatever flow we wish to be in a Twitter stream, a LinkedIn Network Activity Stream, A Facebook update stream.
    I remember trying to read all these stream and keep “up to date”, having given up on that I just go in, join in, and then leave – normally to get on with some “real work”.
    But the change is ongoing and I guess we are all adapting to the changes around us, both on the platforms themselves and in peoples behaviours, and so that why what I teach on LinkedIn is changing all the time.
    Phil

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  • http://www.joshchandlerva.com Josh Chandler

    Chelsea,

    I think that it’s critically important that we keep our family connections as human as possible. Personally, I think it takes a toll on our personal relationships if we switch to communicating via digital tools. It’s impersonal, the tone of the conversation is rarely apparent and it’s breaking down society’s norms (in a bad way!)

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  • Partyluver123

    boooring

  • http://www.webhostinglogic.com Hippy Hop

    You do have some point there. In some ways personal social interaction may suffer but the you may gain more friends not only locally but globally. For other people who are frequent travelers, they may meet persons in social networking sites and meet up with them.

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  • http://twitter.com/aspinchick Helen M. Ryan

    There is definitely a “shake up” coming. Social media is the “new kid on the block.” At some point people will realize that the amazing benefits of social media are outweighed by the drawbacks…and they will begin to feel lonely again.

    Out of touch again.

    And start culling down their networks – even consolidating their social media efforts into one or two forms.

    Some day we won’t have so many social media outlets. Some day we will get tired of texting every conversation. Some day we will remember that nothing beats voice-to-voice and face-to-face contact. We will to hear inflection, read the body language, look into the eyes.

    The internet, for all the wonders it has brought us, can not give us what we truly want: close connections to other human beings. In the end it is just a tool.

  • http://commsthoughts.blogspot.com Mazher Abidi

    Lots of talk about this idea of engagement. How far can you push it?

    Think of a celebrity sports person. As they start out, they get a bit of fan mail. Maybe 5-10 letters a week. They respond personally, it’s easy.

    They get older, rise through the rankings and become the top player in their sport. Of course they don’t continue responding.

    There is a new type of celebrity. The social media celebrity.

    Going back to the sportsperson. There are some that engage with fans. But not in the individual way. A press conference here or there, an in-store appearance, autograph signing etc.

    I believe that for these social media celebrities, the next stage isn’t the social media crash, but they management of social media celebrity status.

    Don’t forget, we’re talking about a medium that is broadly only 5 years old. We’re all still finding our feet.

  • http://twitter.com/Caileagh Diary of an American

    I know what you’re saying and you would think at some point it crashes. However, I’ve been on the Internet since the very early 90′s, in the early days of chat with IRC, Compuserve, etc. People are just growing farther and farther apart. With that has come a degradation of society. We aren’t out there experiencing humanity and I think it’s evident in our behavior as a society.

    While I am thrilled that technology makes my work easier, what it has done to humanity is not a good thing. I’ve been saying this for a long time. It’s kind of the impetus for devolution.

  • http://tommy.ismy.name Tommy is my name

    I’m going to be brave and take an opposing viewpoint here.

    I don’t think this is going to happen at all.

    What I see happening is people are learning more about who they are and who they want to associate with.

    Before, you had very little choice in the types of people you associate with. You were limited by geographic location and the events that were happening in your area. Your communication method was limited which makes limited contact ok.

    Now you have the freedom to be social in places (online, which can translate to offline see:meetup.com) where you know that you are going to be around with like minded individuals. Which means you’ll be inclined to spend more time in those places.

    I don’t think this is a bad thing.

    By spending time in places that are very niche, online and in the real world, you are surrounding yourself with individuals who have similar interests.

    It makes for more stimulating conversation, and more productive debates. This is how many people are growing in a particular category, or knowledge, or entertainment.

    This is why social games like WoW have taken off and become so popular, because the other people who are there have a similar understanding of that aspect of your personality, whereas the rest of the world might not.

    It’s the same reason why people start car clubs, or have board-game nights, or movie viewing parties, because the other people who are there have that same passion as you.

    I don’t think people are going to be willing to give that up.

  • http://tommy.ismy.name Tommy is my name

    I’m going to be brave and take an opposing viewpoint here.

    I don’t think this is going to happen at all.

    What I see happening is people are learning more about who they are and who they want to associate with.

    Before, you had very little choice in the types of people you associate with. You were limited by geographic location and the events that were happening in your area. Your communication method was limited which makes limited contact ok.

    Now you have the freedom to be social in places (online, which can translate to offline see:meetup.com) where you know that you are going to be around with like minded individuals. Which means you’ll be inclined to spend more time in those places.

    I don’t think this is a bad thing.

    By spending time in places that are very niche, online and in the real world, you are surrounding yourself with individuals who have similar interests.

    It makes for more stimulating conversation, and more productive debates. This is how many people are growing in a particular category, or knowledge, or entertainment.

    This is why social games like WoW have taken off and become so popular, because the other people who are there have a similar understanding of that aspect of your personality, whereas the rest of the world might not.

    It’s the same reason why people start car clubs, or have board-game nights, or movie viewing parties, because the other people who are there have that same passion as you.

    I don’t think people are going to be willing to give that up.

  • http://RobertBurnsII.com RobertBurnsII

    Hey Chris. I understand the points you’re making, and they’re quite poignant. However, I have to also say that the points you make aren’t quite relevant to the vast majority of social media (and by extension, Internet users).

    It’s been shown time and time again that nearly 90% of Internet users fall into the category of “lurkers,” those who do not contribute, and nearly 10% of those who contribute far more often than the 90%… and of course, the roughly 1% that puts in the REAL work.

    People like you, Chris, fall into the 1%. Your points are very valid, and will most likely come true in the next 2-3 years, perhaps sooner. But for the vast majority (at least the 90% who lurk), it won’t be a problem. They’ll still be ‘late adopting’ whatever the 1% proclaimed 3 years earlier was “the next BIG thing.”

    Just my .02.

    Good post.

  • http://patriotconnect.com Genuine Chris Johnson

    Ambient connectivity is a good word/phrase. And yeah, I think people should expect less of you. And of each other. And I think that people should give more.

  • http://jakyastikblogs.blogspot.com Jaky Astik

    If it ever does, it’ll do because we’re making turning social media into a marketing backbone. Saturating a platform with something it’s not meant to get saturated with eventually dumps it. What say Chris?

  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog hhotelconsult

    It simply seems obvious to me… all new tech has that rubber band effect… everyone runs in one direction (Sooo cool gotta have it) then people react as the rubber band snaps (I canceled all my accounts and will never use it again)… then the band comes to rest….

    it sits in a drawer, and we use it when we need it. We know it’s there, we know it has functionality, but we don’t play with it constantly because it actually performs some tasks well, and others are just a waste of time. We will, eventually, make it work for us instead of letting it control us.

    Here is what I have found in the last 2 months:

    I do not need a cell phone. Biz trips, all days meetings.. I will bring it. But I don’t use it anymore in general. Running errands, going out with friends… it’s a nuisance and unecessary. So for about 2 months the guy who was mayor of the entire city of SF on Foursquare just stopped dead and never felt better. I literally use a no caller ID old school rotary phone at my desk and I answer it on the 1st ring, everytime. I don’t know who it is, I just answer it. If I don’t answer it… I am not at my desk, or not available.

    I am trying to stop FB – I still post, but never actually check. I post external to FB, and once every two weeks look at the 200 comments, or so. I find it makes me a) happier and b) helps me to realize how worthless those interactions are to begin with.

    I find Buzz existing as the real, meaningful interaction online.. and go there when I want, but not compulsively. I use twitter professionally, but my personal accounts aren’t used as much. I note twitter slowing down in general across many different types of accounts.

    We are coming down to earth, the rubber band is going to rest. After the snappy, useful new tool (shiny toy syndrome) is well understood – it will go back in the drawer and be used when the tool is useful, rather than just being fun to use.

  • Anonymous

    Are you suggesting there might be a social media bubble? LIke real estate and dot.com’s? And one day it’s going to pop and we’ll all be sitting there with Twitter all over our faces? Interesting. After a trip to SXSW and numerous other conventions and seminars, I find myself going further and further down the rabbit hole. Could the whole thing just…pop?

  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog hhotelconsult

    I have been online since 1985. I am 34. More than anyone, I understand the power of these tools to bridge gaps, connect minds, etc.

    But as we stand around bus stops and restaurants with our slack necked gawking, we are missing an entire, living, breathing real world around us while people toil away in the metaverse shining swords and planting crops.

    We look like idiots. Just utter and complete idiots.

  • http://lyndit.com LyndiT

    The more information and connections we are exposed to the better we will be able to determine what information is truly valuable and what information is a waste of our time. Bit of a balancing act that will have to either work it self out or there will have to be an expansion in capacity. In your case maybe it means hiring someone to help manage your communications, increasing bandwidth. In mine it may mean reducing RSS subscriptions, blocking out a set amount of time for personal social networking. Maybe it is the libra in me that is desires the balance of all my time and contacts.

  • Gene

    My blackberry died a couple of weeks ago and instead of replacing it, I switched to an older phone with voice and text only. I don’t miss it at all.

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  • http://mary-hess.blogspot.com Mary J Hess

    I didn’t even go to my 20 year high school reunion because I “technically” see them every day on Facebook. Strange. But true. I thought to myself, “Why waste the money to drive all that distance now?” Sad, isn’t it?

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  • http://ericstandlee.com/ Eric Standlee

    No. I enjoy more friends in places all around the world. Not possible before. No crash. Just gentle corrections.
    However, those fearful of any new world WILL be left behind.

  • Magnus

    The bubble will burst when we did what we always do best: Ooh look, a new media, let us do something without thinking through how. It is an ordinary website but on facebook, here we go. Now the money roll in. Ahaaa, it did not work as we thought; splasch! Some years after, Ooh look, a new media, which we think is just like social media … And round and round it goes. WHY? because we do not listen and learn the necessary information on how it works before we throw ourselves into something new. Fun or destructive? But everything is repeated, economics, love, trends, etc. It’s just different lengths of time in cycles. So the question is not about when, it´s about why.

  • http://www.aaronkellylaw.com Aaronklaw

    I love it Chris. Tell me if anyone else’s day goes like this:

    1) Wake up, roll over and get ipad and check email, facebook, blog comments.
    2) Go to work. Check email, respond to friend requests, update status, read emails from my dad asking me about my facebook status, work.
    3) Update blog. Make sure blog is being updated on facebook/twitter etc. Update facebook status.
    4) Email friend about lunch. Go to lunch. Check in on foursquare where I’m eating and why people should eat there.
    5) Send more emails and read listserv posts.
    6) Get into bed, use ipad to check email/facebook.
    7) Wake up. Repeat

    Ok so maybe not all of you do this but at some point, I’m sure a lot of us do at least two or three of these things. I, as much as the next person, loves social media. I love being connected to all of my friends, family, colleagues, random strangers that want to sell me diet pills (I’m not fan…just big boneded).
    So in all actuality, how social am I really being? How connected am I? Like Chris says, its nothing more than the occasional brushing past one another on the digital stairs. It’s not meaningful contact. It’s a distorted perception of reality that we have been blindly thrown into.

    So, my advice. Turn off your computer. Turn off your phone. Call someone on your landline, ask them what they are doing and if they’d like to get a cup of coffee or lunch. Leave your phone behind. Have a real meaningful conversation with someone that you haven’t talked to in awhile. You’d be surprised how much more real that is, and how all of this “networking” online is really nothing more than noise. Time to get the headphones.

  • http://twitter.com/shavez00 Mark Shavers

    So I went to dinner with 4 friends who I hadn’t seen in months. In the first five minutes we discussed how we were all going to go and help one with her new small business which was taking off, how one was going through a breakup, a new CD that had come out and a party we all wanted to go to. How is it, we knew what was going on in each others lives and instead of the usual, “Hmm what’s interesting going on in my life that we can talk about” our time together is spent interacting about what we already know about each other and have been meaning to reach out about. Facebook. Without seeing each other for months, we knew what was going on in each of our lives and dinner became a hugely fun, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this” event. Social Media isn’t going to crash, or cause a crash. Anymore than email, the internet, the telephone, or the combustion engine did. It’s going to give us greater freedom, to move farther from home, and stay connected to the people we care about. Now only if I could get my Mom on facebook…

  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog hhotelconsult

    I think he talking less about a modicum of restraint in usage, versus completely quitting. The idea is that we will eventually let it work for us, rather than be consumed by it. so your model might be right. I think, however, your model is a bit eager. remember when everyone drinks the kool aid, everyone dies.

  • Mark Davidson

    I’m not sure how using tools such as the telephone and email differ that much from using social media tools. If anything, social media tools save time. Beyond ambient awareness, it is much easier to network using Facebook and Twitter than it is to get dressed, spend drive time in traffic, and go to physical networking events or make in-person office calls. Then again, most of us seem to do that too.

    Most of us have learned to manage our time and our digital connections in mini-chunks as our online connection base has grown. Time isn’t distorted by the internet, it’s folded.

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  • http://twitter.com/JoanCurtis JoanCurtis

    I do believe a social crash could come. But, I also believe that what Clara Shih said in The Facebook Era applies. She talked about not trying to become deeply friendly with everyone, but nurturing those softer connections. That means touching those thousands of people with softer touches (not a ten minute telephone conversation). Twitter gives us a chance to quickly touch thousands of people with one 140 character statement. On Facebook we can touch everyone fast through a status update or we can privately mail our friends.

    Learning the new communication means learning what works best to accomplish the communication goal you want.

    Thanks for this very thoughtful post.

  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog hhotelconsult

    Touch that many people and you are going to be in the same hot water as the Roman Catholic church.

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  • http://twitter.com/SiimLepisk Siim Lepisk

    No worries. One will feel more calm and relaxed if he talks to people face-to-face, not to social media consumers.

  • Anonymous

    Social crash may indeed be happening, but long gone are the days of “I scratched my butt 21 times today” on Twitter. Social media will ultimately become what it was meant to be, that is, a stylized and versatile means of either mass or targeted communication (via, blog, photo, audio or video). If it is used for communicating separately to 600 people at once, it becomes a dinosaur like e-mail. The only difference between social media and e-mail is that it is far less viral and transparent.

  • Lon Safko

    Great analysis! That explains why I start at 6:30 AM and finish at 6:30 PM, seven days per week and still never catch up! And god forbid I travel, and come home to 600 unanswered emails. I am seeing that people are settling into the conversation tool of their choice. I prefer email. Twitter, not as much. And I have found that each social tool has a slightly different application. If I want a thorough two way conversation, I use email. If I want to send out a quick thought or see what my colleagues are up to, then it’s twitter. But, you’re right… We can’t keep spreading ourselves this thin and still be effective.
    -Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible

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