Whatever happened to ‘Social Networking’?

The question in the title of this missive is kinda rhetorical; because social networking is still around. But, the point of the question is that the nature of SocNet (as I like to, rather pretentiously, call it… well, it’s easier to type, innit?) has changed. Whereas sites like MySpace, Facebook, and the myriad other imitators, were once revolutionary, a novelty, exciting (at the time) and actual fun, now they’ve become a part of everyday life: a normal activity that people partake in, like talking on the phone, grabbing a coffee, or doing the laundry. By the way, I’m looking at this from the viewpoint of a musician who’s trying to promote my music online, not as a casual user looking to discuss stuff or make friends; though there is a crossover between the two.

Now, you could argue that this is revolutionary in its own right; a new means of communication where you can share content, opinions, or just chat, instantly, with people from around the world. Without all the complications of having face-to-face interaction. But, I do feel that all the fun, and wonder, of it has left us. Just as the current generation of 15-20 year olds have never known life without mobile phones or the internet; the next generation are never going to know a time without Facebook and smartphones. If you’re my age, or thereabouts (I’m 43 by the way), you’ll remember the birth of such technological advances that are still around (and some that aren’t): VCRs, satellite TV, mobile phones, personal computers, email, the internet. All of them are now such a regular fixture in our lives, we take them for granted totally.
When I was a student in the late 80s/early 90s; I kept in touch with my friends and family all over the country by writing letters. Remember those?

Anyway….what we are witnessing now is a change in SocNet. MySpace, the originator of the medium as we know it, is dying a slow and agonising death. If you’ve used it recently, you’ll be familiar with a clunky interface, a multitude of sub-menus and micro-windows, slow loading times, and, of course, intrusive advertising and (not so subtle) product-placement. Kids think MySpace is a joke; the older generation of web-heads regret its fall from grace, remembering its heyday fondly. It’s like Marlon Brando in ‘On The Waterfront’, except it was once a contender.
We forget that there was a time when everyone was abuzz with talk of new bands/artists being able to build a complete fan-base of thousands by using MySpace judiciously, and ‘getting a deal’ as a result. Getting that deal, incidentally, isn’t the main goal now of course, as musicians can now do it all themselves; and MySpace was originally the medium which enabled this autonomy, it ushered in the real revolution in music, film and art, the new DIY culture which is having such a profound effect on those ‘industries’ today.

Alas, one cannot live on past glories alone, and MySpace has traded on its former status as king of the networking hill for too long.

Then, there’s Facebook. Hmm… now, what do I say about Facebook? I’ve got a love/hate relationship with it; it’s a necessary evil for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some good Facebook ‘friends’ and have also made some great connections with whom I’ve been able to be creative, or just laugh. But, to be honest, they are the same people with whom I’ve been able to ‘connect’ with on Twitter.
The problem with Facebook is that it had the potential to be an egalitarian and lively place where you could hook-up with like-minded people. However, the increased commercialisation of FB (not as overt as MySpace, but still there nonetheless), and particularly the original inclusion of a ‘status’ function made it quickly become the equivalent of listening to the thoughts of the world going about its everyday business. Therefore, we have status reports on every aspect of people’s lives, from “I’m getting a divorce” and “my doctor is going to section me”; to “did I leave the iron on?” or “I think I’ll have pork for dinner”. This level of mundanity (I’m no exception, by the way. I’ve been guilty on many occasions of status posts which seem to be poor imitations of Alan Bennett monologues…only less interesting…and less funny. Basically pointless) comes about because there are occasions when people’s lives provide nothing significant to report; that’s life, it just happens. But we all feel that if we don’t interact in some form, we are going to be out of the loop. We’ll be forgotten. I read, somewhere else, that this is an attempt to affirm the fact that we exist, we are alive.
Having said that, I’ve had some quality interactions, conversations, whatever with people on Facebook, and I appreciate that. It’s just that, I could have the same interactions, conversations, whatever, on Twitter, my preferred medium (albeit in 140 characters or less), with the same people.
So why do I stick around? Well, its mainly been because of the music. Facebook isn’t really ‘fit-for-purpose’ when it comes to music. The restrictions of their ‘pages’ function (mainly a lack of personalisation, were every page looks the same) does not make it an ideal promotional tool. But I still have used it because there is such a large potential listener-base on Facebook. Not that that listener-base is actually hearing my music, you understand! In fact, given that statement, I’m not quite sure why I still use Facebook. Virtually everyone on my Facebook friends list is on my Twitter-list, so I can still keep in touch with them. In fact, I may just go and delete my account now! Along with the MySpace account!

So, that’s it, I’ve decided to forsake the old-school sites, and just stick with Twitter. I’m not a great subscriber to ‘soundbite culture’; but the 140 character restriction of Twitter is a challenge, and forces you to be succinct and sincere. I always feel that the conversations you have on Twitter are more immediate and ‘real’. And, like I said, my Twitter-list is populated by the same people who fill my Facebook friends list. So, its a no-brainer. While I’m at it, I may rationalise all my music site memberships also! I’m on a roll! Unlike MySpace.

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