Don't Look Now, but Your Social Relationships Have Changed—Again

You may not have thought about this, but your social relationships are changing on an almost daily basis. You have simultaneously more and less control over your human interactions, for better or for worse. Your relationships are increasingly determined by devices like phones, iPads, and computers.

Just now, Facebook announced a new social inbox, combining text, chat, and email. Last night, it was Path, another photosharing mobile app.

Every day I download some new application to try, and they are almost all "social." Although some things stick and some don't, I've come away with some trends I think I can share:

1) Media sharing has gone beyond Flickr and the elementary digital photo upload. Indeed, it has jumped the shark. You can take and share a photo on your phone and make it look like anything. Last month, Instagram transformed my photos into old Polaroids.

This morning I downloaded Dave Morin's new iPhone app, Path, supposedly the antithesis of Facebook. But in my mind, it competes with Picplz and Instagram, both of which are apps I already have on my iPhone. I am not a great photographer, and there's a limit to how many of these apps I can use, but clearly we have gone beyond sharing tweets. We are sharing media. Scoble is using yet another mobile app, Cinchcast to interview important people over his iPhone.. He has become the modern equivalent of the man on the street.

2) Smartphones are ubiquitous. They took a while to catch on, but the smart phone is now the norm, not the exception. Most phones can at least share photos and can text, and are "smart." Although not everyone has an iPhone, the Android platform has caught on, and people who are on less pricey phone plans can now have smart phones, too. This makes a huge difference in what can be shared. Not to mention the geo-location aspects of smart phones.

3) As phones grow smarter, phone calls are going away. Phones are never used for phone calls anymore. Mostly they are used for texting, for sharing media, and for using various apps like Google maps and Epocrates, a medical app that gives clinicians drug interactions and symptoms. Over the weekend, Tech Crunch had an article on the death of the phone call as a means of communication. This is only a slight exaggeration; we are all using chat, texting, and Twitter to contact each other. "Phone" is a euphemism for the device we carry.

4) Customer relations management is giving way to vendor relations management. As the customer, YOU choose when and how you want to hear from a vendor. You can fast forward through TV ads, skip online ads, and block phone calls. You can choose the brands you friend or follow. The onus is on the brand to be available online when you are in the market for information. You can shop anywhere, any time, on your terms.

5) Loneliness is supposedly a thing of the past. No date on Saturday night? Get on Twitter of Facebook. Lively conversations are taking place among people who are not ashamed to be sitting in front of a device and communicating only virtually with others. Play games, interact, find sex. There's an interest group for everything. And if you want to meet in person, there's a Meetup Group

6)And now the dark side. In exchange for these rich social lives, full of sharing and new friendships and discovery, we have traded away our privacy, and sometimes our right to our own information. Facebook has it, and we can't get it out. Rapleaf aggregates it and sells it to marketers. The government tracks it to see who we are talking to. And most large cities are installing video cameras like convenience stores do.

Social is a two way street. It's always a good idea to remember that as you unbox that next new shiny object.

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  • john luo

    Actually, Epocrates is a medical application that provides drug information. Certainly there is no definitive source of medication information, but to say that it is dangerous depends on whose hands it is in. Physicians use Epocrates not to diagnose people but to quickly look up drug indication, dosage, and potential drug interactions. It happens to be one of the more popular medication information resources around, and it has been utilized in articles that have been written about the benefit of having such information at the point of care in numerous medical journals.

    I do agree that the whole social aspect of the Internet and the degree of information that is now publicly available via various search engines is a two way street, both enrichening and frightening. Just like any tool, the Internet can be used for both beneficial as well as harmful activities.

  • Joseph Moore

    Francine - This is almost a joke...
    1. Phone calls won't ever go away.
    2. The app Epocrates is absolutely dangerous and should not be advocated for. I spoke with my girlfriend (a Pharmacist) upon hearing of this App and she said, "I'm aware of it. It's probably the worst idea anybody has ever had. That's not because the idea could put me out of a job, but because their information in often wrong and highly dangerous." So I decided to look into the app a little more... Check out the disclaimer? "Epocrates does not warrant that it is complete, accurate or up to date." This App is not used in the medical profession and those who use it should be advised of such. Hmm - Fast Company is advocating for an App that is potentially deadly? Wow - reaching a new low.
    3. You really think your fifth point is true? Loneliness is a thing of the past? Are you the person that sits at home on Friday and Saturday mulling over facebook and twitter? I, as well as everyone else who has a social life outside of the internet, would say you're lonely. Sure you can play games, interact with others, or find sex. However, in the form of "find sex" you're getting nowhere near 'having sex' if you don't have some sort of communication skills beyond the computer.
    Happy masturbating.

  • Dawn Lang

    I find that my children, ages 9 and 12, have social media figured out to the point that this is their primary mode of communication with friends AND family. I find myself having to ramp up to engage with them in conversations beyond the "yes" and "no" short answer response. Agree with Kraabel that you have to disconnect to truly engage - a family trip every year definitely helps us do this, however, the remaining 51 weeks of the year reverts back to the status quo. I am making sure that we sit down for dinner at least 3-4x/week when sports practices don't interfere. This is where I can engage with them with the TV off, no phones at the table.

  • Brent

    It seems to me that the current culture of 'me' that is thriving is really just a clever way for us to willingly give away any and all of our personal information. Our homes are pictured on Google Streetview and it's 'neat', all of our personal information is displayed on Facebook to be pimped out to advertisers, we carry around GPS capable devices at all times that can locate us in an instant, and every mundane detail of our lives is broadcast on Twitter. Not only do we happily participate in these things, we would likely riot if they were taken away. Ten years ago we would've rioted if we were told we'd have to live this way today. Now we do these things freely under the guise of self-expression. Clever marketing...

  • John Lake

    Is Francine Hardaway THAT much of a social outcast that she thinks that everyone wants to be like her, or IS like her? The VAST majority of cell phone users do NOT have smart phones. Hence, they are still very much the exception.

    But I guess when you are a blog writer (as opposed to a REAL journalist) you don't have to have any writing skills. Or intelligence.

  • Kraabel

    I noticed over the past couple of years that my ability to engage in an authentic face-to-face conversation had suddenly become a thing of the past. I found that I was completely reliant on my social media channels to communicate with my friends, family and loved ones. I was detached and out of touch with a lot of the world around me. Even as I was sitting in front of someone, I kept thinking about what might be happening on my mobile device.

    Earlier this year I started a project designed to challenge this behavior. I asked others to join with me to create a social movement designed to show people how life can be better when you just unplug for a bit and focus on real-life human interactions. The Unplugged Project asks people to give up all forms of Digital and Social Media for 48 hours and see how their lives are different without it. It's surprising how many people we've encountered through the project that admit that it's an impossible task.

    But when people do unplug for short bits of time, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

  • Ron

    There is actually a draw back that nobody talks about. If the communication is over video chat it's fine, but if it's more or less an archived reading, or not simultaneous people need to remember that 60% of communication is body language, and 30% is tonality. This leaves 10% or less as to what was actually said. This makes people actually more robotic and harder to read people. I like social media, I am just saying true connection with people happens with the body language and tonality aspect, much of it is missing now with social media and hiding behind technology. You can't make up for quality with quantity.