When Did Social Networking Become So Wrong?

We ran a piece on Lifehacker more than two years ago explaining how Twitter could be useful even if you never posted anything, but that undercurrent of criticism arguing Twitter/Facebook/Foursquare is pointless/self-indulgent never really ceases. And you know what? It doesn't make much sense and I'm sick of hearing it.

I started thinking about this on my Bitdefender-related trip to Romania last week. I couldn't get any mobile signal while I was in the country, which was down to either a handset fault or weirdness with my provider — there's no shortage of mobile networks, as was evident from my button-pressing, screen-swiping fellow travellers. What that meant is that instead of my normal travel routine of tweeting several times a day when I spotted something of interest, I didn't tweet at all.

Obviously, the world did not stop turning because of this. But I did get an email from my father, noting that I'd been unusually inactive on Twitter (and, by extension, Facebook) and wondering what was up. Which reminded me that it's not just the people who actually reply to my various comments that notice what I say. Tweeting is a useful and inexpensive way of keeping my family (who now reside on three continents) in the loop.

Amidst the plethora of extra features that are now being bundled in — apps, discounts, likes, trends and so forth — it's easy to forget that this is the core of what social networking is about: communicating with other people who are interested in you. Choosing to use a social networking tool doesn't have to mean anything more than wanting to do that.

Those choices have consequences, of course. You have to think carefully about the privacy implications, and you don't want to broadcast information that poses a real-world security risk. However, when you're a journalist writing on the road, the fact that you're out of the country is inescapably public information anyway. The benefit of keeping friends and family (and anyone else who is interested) up-to-date on what's happening easily outweighs that for me.

I'm not saying that means everyone should be making use of Twitter as extensively as I do, or indeed that anyone has to use it at all. We're all entitled to our own individual communication choices. But those choices will differ, and if we've made them intelligently, then generic "who cares what you had for breakfast?" criticism is about as much use as etiquette lessons from Kyle Sandilands.

If you don't want to use Twitter (or Facebook or whatever), that's fine — but deciding to criticise people who do use it purely because they chose to use it makes you look stupid and intolerant. Firstly, because you're not recognising that we don't all communicate in the same way. And secondly, because you're not using it, your knowledge of how it actually works, and how it might help in your life, is going to be fairly minimal.


Comments

    My hatred of them probably grows more from everyone else's insistence that I use it/criticism for not doing so than anything else.

    I am finding social networking (Twitter especially) particularly useful for marketing my newly published book, The Lesser Evil.

    This surprised me, as prior to signing up, I thought Twitter was singularly pointless and strange... the effect of ignorance, I suppose.

    I don't use facebook/Twitter/Google+ etc because I dislike the monetisation of social interaction.

    http://goo.gl/Yn70t

      It irritates me to see that Rushkoff himself now posts on facebook and Twitter more often than on his own blog. It reminds me of RATM releasing music through major record labels ("the machine").

      If not even the proponents themselves can resist the temptation to take the easy way out, what chance do the rest of us have? :/

    Oh man, I love the soup-in-bread technique. I probably enjoy it even more than than cheese-fondue-in-bread, and cheese is pretty hard to beat.

    To me, it flaunts the good, and the bad, and the mediocre is rediculed. I don't feel like 'friends' want to know the extremes (boasting that you're wherever or your true sadness) other than superfically - I feel more lonely than connected as a result...

    Look! I could give two hoots about whether someone wants to put their life on display. Personally that's well outside my comfort zone, but when I visit a web page and find I can't get the full value of it because I don't have an account with 'Twitter' or bloody 'Facebook' it kind of pisses me off! I feel like I've been shoved aside and pissed on for being a social Neanderthal. The same sort of mentality is happening with Apple too, hell I can't even buy a car or an A/V device without a bloody iPod connector! There needs to be a levelling of the field, somehow it would be nice if both sides of the fence was catered to. Give me the option of doing the social networking way or the less invasive and less a waste of my time way! So I'll stop giving 'FB' and the 'Twitt' a hard time when they stop shoving shit down my throat!

      Sorry, I got a bit carried away there! #]

      Complaining about an iPod connector in a car radio is like complaining about the AM band in there. If you don't want it, don't use it.

        This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

          If you cannot understand Blake's comment, it's time to take a rage rest. Are you seriously arguing the redundancy of a 1 inch port on devices (of which - a large percentage of buyers will utilise)?

          Further to this, the ability to share web pages on Twitter, FB, etc adds value. These are merely options for SHARING. If you have no online circle, you have nothing to lose! Post a bloody letter about the fabulous article you read.

          Nothing is being shoved down your throat apart from your own foot.

            Some times I wonder how the logic functions of some people work? You can't seriously be comparing a radio's ability to broadcast 'radio' waves, no matter the band width, to an 'add on port' for a device that only an 'Apple enthusiast' will want to use! The hubris of assuming that 'most people' want to have the bloody thing attached to whatever the device it is they are invading beggars belief! The fact is, I put this into the comment, which was about something else to help make a point! You said "These are merely options for SHARING." Bullshit, it's a friggin radio! When I buy a radio, of which there is no other with the options I want, but has a bloody port for something I don't and will not own, and feel I have no choice but to buy it anyway, that's an option that was forced on me, not bloody shared! Fanboys always make comments like this about themselves, why can't I buy something that has a ubiquitous port, that every body can use and the Fanboys can get an adaptor for their bloody iCrap! #[

              I am going to print this post out and stick it up on my wall, so that when I am feeling down about myself, I can be cheered up by realising how much worse I could have turned out.

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      Completely agree EckyThump. You've nailed my pet hate with 'social networking' sites.

      Also can't stand sitting in a cafe or restaurant with friends who are all too busy checking their status! Anti-social-social-networking. :|

      OT: There seems to be a trend of articles on Gizmodo criticising either readers or the general public over the last few months. Please Giz, stick to tech NEWS, not gossip or abuse. There's a million other crap sites out there filling that niche.

        I take it you didn't notice this isn't actually Gizmodo . . .

        Yeah - I missed it until I posted...The curse of too many open tabs. The issue remains the same though.

          Lifehacker isn't a news site, it's a magazine site and Angus ranting about people who disagree with or criticize him in any way is some of the best comedy fare on here. If you don't love "Music Is Cheaper Than Its Ever Been", "People Who Don't Want To Exploit The Book Depository Are Hypocrites" and "People Shouldn't Criticize Things I Like" then I suggest moving on to another site.

    I guess I'm living my life to the fullest, rather than (what I see as) wasting time reporting it to others. Similarly I don't see much point in photographing/videoing my overseas trips ... I'm there to enjoy and experience them!
    Living in the now, now!

      And you don't consider commenting on this article you're not interested in a waste of time...? Don't flatter yourself.

    I dislike that you virtually need a facebook acct these days. So many "offers" etc are invalid unless you "like" them on Facebook etc.
    I used to use Facebook until the 100th person added me whom I had never met in my life, and our only link was going to the same high school - 5 years apart. Also the 6000th invitation to play FarmVille or Mafia Wars was a clincher.
    The social networks purposes have been distorted, and have become for many just a popularity contest.
    For their intended purpose they're brilliant, but the irritations outweigh the benfits for me personally.

      Shows that facebook likes are meaningless, when you don't actually like them, you are just doing it to get a reward.
      This publicises it to your 'friends'.
      Not much social left in the network.

      Why would you add someone you're not interested in? That's not FB's fault.

      Also, it's very simple to install something like 'FB Purity" to get rid of the fluff like the games crap.

    I stopped using Twitter when it became an ever increasing cesspool of "links".. essentially spam. Live, up to the minute spam. I love to hear about what people are doing, where they are going, interesting things they are currently looking at or doing.. but when 90% of the feed is taken up by either links or retweets about people and things I didn't have any interest in to begin with.. I just turn off so quickly. So I have done so. It's the same with Facebook.. but like you, Angus, my family are all on there and they "expect" a certain level of involvement in online family networking.

    Each to their own and tolerance for all.

    If one wishes to broadcast the minutia of their life - really, who does it hurt?

    Likewise, if one wishes to moan about the prevalence of trivial social media noise in the world ... let them moan.

    Maybe we should just not be quite so sensitive?!

    Someone I respect very much once said to me

    "Twitter is banal pointless bullshit only if you haven't left behind the grade school mentality of trying hard to be friends with only the popular people. Unfortunately not everyone learns to pick friends they actually like"

    Twitter is what YOU choose it to be. If it's a cesspool of links, then you chose to follow people who spam you with links. Stop doing that.

      Fair enough.. I guess I am just too lazy to go through and unfollow everyone.. Easier to just stop using the service :)

    The reason that it makes the critics look "stupid and intolerant" is because that's exactly what they are.

    Good piece.

    I haven't signed up for twitter or faceBook.

    Prefer musical tweets (from our feathered friends :) Glad social media is useful (and an essential platform) for others :)

    SF

    Gold article Angus, the main reason I have Facebook is so my family can see what I'm doing while overseas. My Dad especially likes seeing my posts when my sister goes over to our house to show him on her account. I only add people I've met in real life and whom I find interesting or nice, I've deleted the undesirables from my account.

    A few people have provided perfectly reasonable justifications for utilising these services.
    At least some of those are journalists, whose need to communicate exceeds the average.

    Excluding these groups, that still leaves about 200 million twattlers posting every insignificant incident of their little lives.

    The words 'friend' and 'like' are among several which have lost all their original meaning and become buzzwords for insecurity.

    The streets are full of shuffling zombies so very busy being 'connected' that their only interaction with the real world is via the top of their head as they thumb their surrogate social portals.

    Sadly, Ben Elton predicted this some years ago - check out the summary of "Blind Faith" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Faith_%28novel%29)

    Twitter is one service I dont 'get'. I follow a collection of people who are apparently Pretty Big Wheels and I find their condensed little snippets boring and uninteresting.

    Google+, on the other hand, makes for an interesting social media experience. I can follow people's public updates twitter style, but without the stupid restriction of 160(ish?) characters. Whats with that? Are we all stilling rolling 1990s Nokias and TLKING LK DIS 2 SV MONY? And when I want to reply to something interesting, it appears below their comment instead of stuffed in a sidebar somewhere.

    Anyway. Twitter and Apple products are two popular things I just cant 'get' the appeal of.

    What stood out to me most was this line:

    "communicating with other people who are interested in you"

    I don't really use social media, but I have no problem with it except for when the need to be 'connected' is so overwhelming that people stop caring whether or not other people are in fact, interested in you. They gather as many 'friends' as possible and post about every stupid thing... and from then on their day-to-day seem to become more about advertising some sugar coated version of their lives to the world rather than actually caring enough to enjoy the living.

    The funny thing is that angus's experience is the reason why I would stop using social networking as I don't want my family following me on a social media website.

    But the important thing to remember is these websites are exactly what you want to make of them.

    Personally I find the check in features of facebook and foursquare jet weird. I don't like telling people where I am. I am not comfortable doing it and to me it seems like an attempt for validation which is something I dont want to do.

    So I don't use that feature and I hide it from my feed.

    Social networking to me is just posting silly comments about life making jokes on other people's statuses, sharing cool links and a platform to organize events with friends.

    I broke up with twitter. I now live with my family again, so no need to tweet what I'm doing, I can just tell them. I also can let my friends know what I'm doing in a more private way via Facebook. The big reason why is because they killed the ability to SMS in tweets (so no more on the road tweeting, I don't own a smart phone) and when I do log in to check it, it's usually slow as treacle, or simply not working. So, twitter and I are no longer an item.

    What gives me the shits is seeing products advertised on TV and then instead of having a link back to their website for more info, they have a URL back to their facebook page.. it's like they are forcing it down your throat..get over yourself facebook, you aren't as big as the web

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