The Future of Social Media (a.k.a. “Leave me the heck alone!”)

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‘Social Media’ and ‘The Future’ are two phrases that really shouldn’t go together unless you want to set yourself up for failure. Technological change is simply too fast and organic to be predictable. That said, here’s a stab at tomorrow and, maybe, the day after…

Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed (sorry MySpace) are in a dead heat race to make the most of the rapidly approaching real time web. Each offers their own, unique package of connectivity and information based on different ideas about how to foster organic human interaction and generate sustainable business growth. Even Google has joined the pack as more and more people use Twitter and Facebook to find information or news rather than search engines.

Yet as anyone who dabbles in social media will tell you, connectivity and access to information are no longer the problem. In fact, information overload is fast becoming an issue.

As real time communication becomes a reality, social media will be recast as curation. That means the very same Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed we now use to get information will be reframed as filters.

Yet it’s not a knock out competition. Right now we each choose Facebook, Twitter or Friendfeed depending on our preference for how we like to connect with others and information. In exactly the same way, these social networks – and others that aren’t even created yet – will provide of spectrum of choices for how we like to filter information. Our considerations will be the same as ever – how much connectivity we want, our tolerance for exposing our private lives, our comfort level with technology and time constraints.

So, in a sense, the same technology that allowed us to deep dive into cyberspace to connect and share in unprecedented ways, will now serve to carve out boundaries for the penetration of that information into our lives. They will be seen as tools that allow each of us to shape negative spaces for ourselves in which we are not in communication, cannot be reached and have nothing to share.

picture-12(Ahhhh…that was nice.) These spaces are the cyber equivalent of ‘going outside for a walk’. Obviously in today’s connected world the ability to communicate has nothing to do with your physical distance from others. Instead, one must increasingly carve out invisible boundaries in black space to define the limits of you as can be experienced by others.

The difference between this dynamic in cyberspace and the physical world is that our choice of information is much wider on the web, the available content is therefore much more specific to our interests, and the filtering tools are far more sophisticated. Yet the net result is the same – a space reserved solely for ourselves in a world where our real and virtual lives are increasingly blurred.

This reframing of purpose is important because, even though the user experience may be the same, the dynamic in our relationship with technology and information is headed in the other direction.

This shift is not linear but part of a larger cycle. The next few years will be characterized by unlimited information, unprecedented connectivity and pride in curatorship. No doubt technology or human ingenuity with then provide a further redefinition of how we live that will initiate the next iteration of this cycle. For new technology must always engage with the timeless qualities of the human condition that include the competing needs for privacy and connection.

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