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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.