If you have ever watched someone learn how to play drums, you often observe three phases. The first phase, immersion, involves them learning the basic sticking patterns, developing a sense of rhythm, and becoming comfortable with the drum set. The second stage, infatuation, happens when they learn more advanced techniques like playing a fill, and then proceed to use those techniques everywhere they can, even when inappropriate, such as playing drum fills for whole measures in the middle of a song. Finally, they reach the third stage, intention, where they have enough mastery of their craft to know when and how to use the tools at their disposal. They know when to hold back, and they know when to let it rip.
Right now, we are in infatuated with the social web.
In the early days, with email, forums, and instant message clients, we were just getting our toes wet in how the Internet would allow us to connect, communicate, and share with others. Then came sites like Myspace and Facebook, encouraging people to put all sorts of information about them in one place; what movies they like, what books they read, who their friends are, what plants they grow on Farmville, who they are playing on Words with Friends, etc. etc. Users ate it up. We could now post about anything we wanted in any form. We were sharing images, video clips, restaurant recommendations, checking each other in to places, and posting every meal we consumed. This new freedom to share anything at anytime was intoxicating, and it has been for the past few years. But slowly, some people are coming around, and the honeymoon stage of “everything, all the time” is coming to a close.
Recently, danah boyd shared a Huffington Post article that quoted her saying that Facebook is “the teenage version of email” – a label that would make anyone cringe. This article highlighted how teens had lost passion with using the site and were turning to places that specialized in the types of sharing practices they wanted, sites like Tumblr and Twitter. This resonates with the immersion-infatuation-intention cycle as people are slowly realizing that there are places that do many of the same things Facebook does, in a better way and without an inflated set of unnecessary or undesirable features. Instagram is a great example of that, as it capitalized on how people wanted to share images of what they were doing right in that moment from their mobile devices.
I sincerely hope that this shift away from Facebook is the beginning of a larger trend, indicating that we, as a society, are moving away from infatuation with social technologies and beginning to be more purposeful about our use. Only when we are intentional about what we are doing will we be able to build a smarter, better Internet.
Edit: After posting this, Nathan Jurgenson and I had a short back of forth to clarify an aspect of this that I have not covered – balancing users’ desires with corporate desires (or limitations/constructions of the technologies themselves). I’ve posted the tweets below, but do want to acknowledge that technology use (especially social technologies) are often technologically-determined (that is, limited or framed in terms of what a technology allows one to do) and socially-constructed (that is, people often do with a technology what others do with that technology and develop norms and practices as a group). A great example of this is how students post their course schedules on Instagram. Perhaps not what the founders expected, but it is a great way to communicate a certain type of information with a specific audience. As always, thanks Nathan for keeping me sharp.