That’s a slightly click-baity title, so let me clarify: I mean social media not in the sense of all ways of talking with people on the internet of any kind, but rather the giant platforms people typically mean when they say “social media”: Facebook, Twitter, etc. And when I say doomed, I mean, in their current form. I strongly suspect that there will be a Facebook corporation (or whatever it’s called) in 50 years time.
Social media is currently organized around a push-model of media delivery. Basically, it uses notifications for when people say things to you. And it does this regardless of whether you know them or not. This is not long-term viable for human beings. Conflict is deeply stressful to us, and we’re reasonably good at settling into mutually acceptable patterns with people we regularly come into contact with—especially family members. Though even there, plenty of people aren’t good at it and these relationships don’t all last. push-based social media forces us into contact with people in a relatively intimate setting with whom we haven’t developed the patterns of interaction which let us be comfortable with each other. And that just doesn’t work.
People not wanting to argue with random strangers in an intimate way is often ridiculed as “wanting to seal oneself in an echo chamber” but it’s basic human nature: people don’t have the energy to accommodate themselves to a large number of people, and worse social media contacts are often quite temporary in nature. Developing a mutually accommodating relationship to a person is often a waste of energy because they disappear from one’s life in 6 months.
For this and other reasons, social media where you interact in an intimate way with people you should be interacting with in a formal way is a disaster. It is simply against human nature.
Of course when social networks are relatively young this doesn’t cause as many problems because the members of the network are self-selected and most people just don’t run into that many people. Thus the network gains a lot of strength of this not-long-term-viable approach in terms of early growth. But eventually the downsides emerge; Facebook, for example, has become an excellent way to hate your family, friends, and neighbors. It’s also, apparently, an excellent tool for kids to bully each other with, and especially for girls to bully other girls with. I won’t use facebook for basically any amount of money, but its addictive properties do keep many bound to it.
The result is very likely going to be the platform’s gradual shift away from push-notifications to pull-notifications. Push notifications for private direct messages, since that’s the same thing as mail, email, SMS messages, etc. But pull notifications for other things, like status updates. The other thing is that on more personal networks like Facebook, people are likely to generally adopt rules of politeness very similar to teatime rules—do not under any circumstance discuss contentious issues.
The problem from Facebook’s perspective, of course, is that this reduction in engagement is bad for their bank account. For at least a fair time they were experimenting with showing you the things other people liked, in addition to showing you what other people shared. That’s really what eventually drove me off of Facebook, actually. And I notice that Twitter is doing it too. In fact the twitter phone app as become basically unusuable because of it. Between that and their constantly showing me the “in case you missed it” tweets, the phone app has become dysfunctional. Sure, it’s serving twitter’s ends and not mine, but I’m getting close to uninstalling it, in which case it will serve no one’s ends. I’m a little odd in that I analyze this sort of thing, but I’m not odd in my reaction—people burn out all the time.
So when you put all this together, it’s an inherent problem social media faces—growth and maximum engagement are achieved only by running hard against human nature. And you can only do that for so long before human nature revolts. As I said, I don’t expect that Facebook and Twitter will all go out of business—heck, there’s still a MySpace for crying out loud—but I do think we’re going to see big changes.
Blogging, by the way, is far more in accord with human nature because it is a pull-type medium. You go to a blog and read it, or read it in your RSS reader (I use newsblur). It is convenient to take or leave as you find interesting and useful. It does not, therefore, introduce demands that you accommodate yourself to someone who probably won’t be around in six months anyway.