Un-social Media

People on the radio have been talking about ‘social media’ for what seems like a very long time now. It’s time for that to stop. Just as cars were once ‘motor vehicles’ and cats, I presume, were once ‘domestic animals’, all of this ‘social media’ has morphed simply into something we already knew: the web.

Since the very day it was released into the world, the internet has been connecting computers and thence people together, giving them a means to communicate back and forth. Sure, in the early days, the web wasn’t terribly ‘social’—it allowed for data and primitive textual messages (eventual emails) to flow to and fro, and that was about all—but those days, of course, are long behind us.

The web we have today doesn’t merely have integrated social tools, nor simply special, gimmicky layers that add social functionality on top of content. The web of today is people talking back and forth and sharing links and pictures and videos and articles. The astute reader will note, of course, that this is all the web ever was.

Long before I was able to tweet about the latest, coolest thing I’d seen, I was emailing all of my friends about it. If it was cool enough, they’d email their friends and on it went. The same basic kind of communication was going on then as now. The only real difference being the ease with which something is now able to travel around—today’s retweet is worth about 1,000 of yesterday’s forwarded emails—but it’s still the same thing.

None of the things that get thrown around today have anything to do with ‘social media’. They are merely tools that allow things to be shared easily, exactly the same as email did. Give a random person on the street a sketch pad and ask them to draw a picture of the internet for you and they’re very, very likely to start drawing the Facebook logo. Ten years ago you would have been giving the sketch pad to someone who had just recently switched from a Terminal-based email reader like Pine and they would have drawn you a logo of Internet Explorer.

If you asked them what the internet actually was, they’d probably just tell you that its simply a place with a huge pile of videos, pictures, Facebook-status-updates and weather forecasts. And none of that is any more social today than it was 10 years ago—it just gets around faster.