Social networks become social handicaps

I’m beginning to resent the whole ‘social network’ movement. I joined LiveJournal so I could participate with one particular friend’s journal. Then I joined Blogger to do the same. And MySpace. And LinkedIn. And Twitter. And Gather. And Podshow. And now Facebook. Plus, I know there are more I’m not thinking of this minute. My password manager application is full of them. It’s getting ridiculous.

If you look for me on any of those services, you’ll find my content is sparse, irregular, and in most cases, never updated at all. I use the logins to keep in touch with friends scattered about the various networks and to be able to see articles posted as links in other people’s blog posts. That last bit is what prompted me to join Facebook today. A link. One stupid little link that, along with its context, invited me to read more. One click and I’m excluded by a login policy that is clearly in place to boost membership numbers. Several times in the past couple of months, as Facebook swallows more and more of the people in my RSS feeds, I’ve clicked a link, been frustrated and said ‘Aw, screw it. I don’t really need to read that article to live and I’ll be damned if I’m joining another f’in social network just to view it.’ Today I caved. Today I feel duped once again.

Isn’t the point of social networking to be social? What’s up with the gated communities? I understand that some are intended for professional usage (LinkedIn comes to mind) but most seem to be putting up more walls than they are breaking down. If I have a single friend in each network, what have I achieved? If my whole reason for joining a social network produces a core resentment of a service that limits my interaction if I resist joining, then what sort of member am I? At that point I become a number. I’m the most valuable commodity for a social network- I am a number that increases company value. I’m fattening a spreadsheet total. If you counted up active users versus the users like me who join because someone else did and you care enough to read what that person wrote about or linked to, I become nearly as valuable as the true participant should the social network court suitable buyers like Yahoo! or Google, etc. All because I’ve been guilted into another login and password.

Social networking should break down barriers, not create them and certainly shouldn’t guilt a person for not joining. If I tell friend Jane Doe that I didn’t read about her wedding because I won’t join another bloody social site, who does it hurt? Right. It hurts my relationship with Jane Doe, not SocialSiteXYZ. SocialSiteXYZ will never miss me, but I will create tension in a friendship that is potentially decades old because I didn’t sign up to SocialSiteXYZ.

There is something very wrong with that precedent.

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16 thoughts on “Social networks become social handicaps”

  1. I totally agree. I got an e-mail last week from because a friend had signed up and was uploading pictures and video, and I could only see them if I signed up. This weekend I got an e-mail from Ringo effectively complaining that I hadn’t uploaded any pictures myself – what are they expecting me to do, copy the thousand or so pictures I’ve got on Flickr across?

  2. Ooo- that’s one I haven’t joined yet! (And won’t… * puts foot down and growls *)

    Yeah, out of the ones I listed at the beginning of my post, Podshow is the only one I truly have an interest in ‚Äö?Ñ?Æ my husband works for them and I have several friends on it and I have a podcast released through their servers. I make more of an effort there. All the rest? I could happily scrub the memberships were it not for the guilt factor. I WANT to keep up with the friends on the services. And because of that, they have me. I am a bit grumpy about that.

    I am not the social networks I belong to… to sort of twist a Fight Club reference. (I am a unique and beautiful snowflake though… 😉 )

  3. A word of advice from Mom (of course). Unsubscribe from every service except those that are absolutely necessary.

    It’s like a closet full of clothes–weed out what you don’t need or use. Get real and get rid of some stress. Decide if you REALLY care about this and that or are you just curious.

    Keep in touch with friends through email, blogs, phone or even snail mail. If you don’t have time for any of those, SLOW DOWN or try telepathy 🙂 Don”t guilt yourself out. Lifes’ too short!

  4. Meant “Life’s too short!”. Had to correct that so I wouldn’t stress over it 🙂

  5. @Mom: I could do that, but with the creation of every social network comes the further crumbling of communications effort. No one emails anymore. I have one friend who almost consistently uses MySpace messages (comments that I can’t even respond to) as her means of contacting me. If I axed MySpace I doubt I’d hear from her. If I deleted my LiveJournal account, a friend from the past and I would lose contact altogether since she never emails‚Äö?Ñ?Æ only has ‘comment conversations’ with me. It’s terribly frustrating.

    I like these people (and several others spread over other networks) but if I delete my accounts, then I delete a big chunk of my social life. Or are we all just fooling ourselves about the nature of online ‘friendships’‚Äö?Ñ?Æ cutting the cord to get back to reality (the meat-space) might be the healthiest thing we do… Are social networks really social lives? (probably not…)

    Perhaps clinging to the shreds of relationships we have online is more harmful than good…
    (Then again, that’s how I met Neil! d’oh! 🙂 )

  6. I think you’re right about “fooling ourselves about the nature of online ‘friendships’ “. Maybe about friendships in general. Is a friend really a friend if they can’t be bothered to keep in touch in some fashion directly? When they just throw everything out on MySpace? When there’s no real give and take? When what you think or do doesn’t matter to them? NO!

    As for the person who never emails, only has “comment conversations”, what’s her excuse? If she’s a real friend, there is no excuse.

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me those people sound like acquaintances, not “friends”. Being a friend means more than that. It requires more. It gives more.

  7. Mom I totally agree with you! I get really tired of people who complain everytime they see you that they never hear from you, but when you call or email them they don’t return your messages. I have friends and family that will only speak to me through text messages.

  8. @ Daddy P. Fortunately, we do talk a lot–email, phone, iChat. She’s my best friend. I can tell her things I don’t tell anybody else, except my Mom. I’m lucky I have both of them to whine to 🙂 I also talk to my dog a lot–he’s so understanding–when he’s awake, that is!

  9. I guess I don’t mind the blog ‘comment conversations’ as much when the participants keep up with each other’s blogs. It’s when I’m pretty sure the effort is one-way that bugs me.

    Mostly this post is about social networks being anything but. The fact that I have some very lopsided associations is a flaw I’ll readily admit and am not sure how I want to remedy. A couple of them will be easy enough to transition into meat-space… another couple of them, no so easy and will likely fade completely without my effort to sustain the current situation.

    Probably worthy of a follow-up post when I make a move.

  10. Hi – Barry’s better half here (haha). I was bored at work and looking at his twitter (that sounds dirty) and came to your blog and this entry struck a cord.

    I’ve also avoided most of the invitations to the social networks over the years because I honestly don’t care – it’s so often the same people I’m already connected with joining a new network to be amongst the first and therefore, “in”. I caved and joined Facebook only to find that all the excitement and addiction others have found there hasn’t existed for me and likely never will. I wasn’t particularly close to anyone I ever went to school with, but regardless, there’s always the curiousity of what are these people up to. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) my classmates are not involved in these sorts of things so there was no one to locate. (And all the stupid widgets/groups are just the most pointless and annoying things ever.) I too have deactivated my account and wished I had paid more attention when I signed up because, unfortunately, I did enter a bunch of info all of which I’ve now stripped from my account before deactivating.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. A friend (okay more of an acquaintance) and his business partner wrote a tool called Explode which allows you to link up your friends across various networks and have those comment conversations without having to join a new network and participate there since you can use your existing logon for one of the sites or an OpenID. Maybe it will be worthwhile for you and you can drop some of those extraneous networking sites…

  11. Jen… I completely agree about social networks not being very social.

    And may I add my two cents about blog directories? A person wants to promote their blog, but most of the directories require a login and password. WFT? Everyone just wants to create the logins so they can track behaviour.


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