When I was a kid and my parents first paid for AOL, it opened up an entire world for me. While I could talk a lot about the web (even the crippled web that AOL enabled for me) what I remember most was participating in forums as a middle schooler.
And nobody knew I was in middle school.
Forget about predatory people trying to abduct me or whatever. I’m talking about a more immersive, more effective way to learn as a kid. I was able to ask questions to complete strangers and usually get answers that were mostly better than what I’d get at school.
Of course, a lot of the questions I asked were about computers and software. It’s what led to me learning about DOS batch files, and eventually Q-BASIC and once that happened, the hobby was unstoppable.
Even before Stack Overflow, the web was an amazing place to get help when you were stuck on a programming problem. What was I supposed to do, ask my parents? My teachers? My friends? None of these people had any idea what I was doing.
We all know what’s happened with social media – it’s essentially taken over the social layer of the internet. Forums are ghost towns, and private communities are difficult to find. I won’t even touch the topic of how Twitter and FB have adversely affected our society. Others have done that ad nauseam.
Personally, I’ve removed Twitter and Facebook from all of my mobile devices and I stay logged out on my laptop. I use them almost exclusively as a distribution channel for things like this blog, telling my friends and family what I’m up to, and more. I do have some lingering people who still insist on using Twitter DMs – so I do occasionally log back in and check those.
It seems inevitable to me that FB and Twitter are doomed. I don’t know how they will die – slowly or quickly, if it will be competition or regulation that does them in, but on their current trajectory they seem to have no way out. (Reminds me of that old Sun Tzu quote from The Art of War: Always leave your enemy an exit route.) Maybe they’ll turn it around and figure out how to both return profit to shareholders and be a force for good, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this point.
I think we’ve learned that making the world a more connected place might be a good idea if you’re trying to stitch all of the world’s human beings into one giant hive mind of emergent behavior. But for the health of many of the individuals, that is not a great idea. I don’t want to be just a worker ant in a colony.
I do often wonder what the future of social on the web will be. Will it be exclusive private communities like Clubhouse? Will we all use next-generation forums? Will the social world splinter into discussion networks, photo-sharing networks, “stay in touch with family” networks, and so forth?