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Social Media Burnout

July 15th, 2009 · 9 Comments

I think it’s probably a mistake to extrapolate too much from one kid’s anecdotes about his circle of friends, but researcher danah boyd has also basically found that average teens aren’t leading early adoption of Twitter in the same way that they did with social networking sites. And it strikes me that Twitter is subject to an extreme, accelerated version of the Facebook-is-for-Old-Fogies effect.

After resisting for a while, I finally signed up for Twitter a little over a year ago because it became clear that it was no longer socially optional: My friends were coordinating via Twitter rather than sending around e-mails about when and where to grab a few drinks or see a movie. In recent months, as Twitter has exploded as a medium for other kinds of communication, I notice that I seem to be using it less for that original coordinating feature. And a moment of reflection suggests why. Even if you protect your feed, and maintain separate social and professional accounts, there are going to be people in your social world from whom you can’t politely refuse a follow request. Now, the first 20 or so people I had following me on Twitter were more or less coextensive with the group of people I most often see socially, and basically all people I’m perfectly happy to have show up if I announce that I’m out for a beer at such-and-such a place. But let’s face it, there are really only so many friends and acquaintances most of us feel that way about, and so as a service like this is more widely adopted, there are invariably more and more people on that follow list who, while you may like them well enough, you don’t necessarily want to implicitly invite along every time you make plans. So at least for that narrow function, Twitter (and probably most social media) looks like a network good with diminishing returns: Its utility  grows sharply with the number of connected users, but past a certain point starts to drop off again. Which is to say, social media is heir to the complications of social life.

Tags: Sociology · Tech and Tech Policy


       

 

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter // Jul 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    [...] Julian Sanchez notes that the rise of Twitter as a hot tool for political communication has killed Twitter the social networking service. After resisting for a while, I finally signed up for Twitter a little over a year ago because it became clear that it was no longer socially optional: My friends were coordinating via Twitter rather than sending around e-mails about when and where to grab a few drinks or see a movie. In recent months, as Twitter has exploded as a medium for other kinds of communication, I notice that I seem to be using it less for that original coordinating feature. And a moment of reflection suggests why. Even if you protect your feed, and maintain separate social and professional accounts, there are going to be people in your social world from whom you can’t politely refuse a follow request. Now, the first 20 or so people I had following me on Twitter were more or less coextensive with the group of people I most often see socially, and basically all people I’m perfectly happy to have show up if I announce that I’m out for a beer at such-and-such a place. But let’s face it, there are really only so many friends and acquaintances most of us feel that way about, and so as a service like this is more widely adopted, there are invariably more and more people on that follow list who, while you may like them well enough, you don’t necessarily want to implicitly invite along every time you make plans. [...]

  • 2 Joe Strummer // Jul 15, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I get the general argument which is a good one, but there are workarounds for the particular problem you describe. Twitter needs to implement tweakable groups, as exists on Facebook. That would allow the account holder to select who warrants what level of twitter feed. That would resolve the problem of the person who ought not be on your good friends list, and a #nort tag could be a way to ask people to honor a no-retweet request.

    Of course, hurt feelings from someone who thought they were a good friend but finds out you’ve been hanging out without inviting them can’t be avoided. Such is life.

  • 3 Tom // Jul 15, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I think it extends beyond just the “social” part of social media, though — or at least, the inevitable lifecycle of these networks can be expressed in more general terms. These networks derive much of their value from the freedom that their novelty engenders. Once the medium is figured out, efficiencies are sought and the whole thing enters a stable but boring phase (though this phase may be more useful, depending on how you’re measuring utility). More fleshed-out thoughts to this effect here, fwiw.

  • 4 Michael B Sullivan // Jul 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Someone — it could have been danah boyd — presented a general lifecycle of social networking sites that I find convincing:

    Step 1: Find a new social networking site.
    Step 2: Connect with a core group of people that you really like, get lots of value out of the service.
    Step 3: As service gets popular, get invites from people that you kind of like, but aren’t your core group of friends.
    Step 4: Your friend group grows to include people that you just aren’t close with anymore, and don’t want to connect with.
    Step 5: To avoid social friction necessary to prune back your list, you just stop using the site.
    Step 6: Goto step 1.

    I wonder if a good feature for a social networking site would be to automatically expire all friends after 6 months, so that you had to reconnect.

  • 5 Clint // Jul 15, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    “I notice that I seem to be using it less for that original coordinating feature”

    I think I heard the creator say something about how the service has evolved (perhaps in a TED talk). I imagine Twitter will be very different in a year or two — or perhaps swallowed up by a newer, more user-controlled service.

    I think geography awareness could make it a very interesting service (so I could communicate digitally with everyone on the bus I’m riding via Twitter or something like that).

  • 6 Jadagul // Jul 15, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Michael Sullivan: except I feel like one of the best uses for facebook is being able to get in touch with people you haven’t talked to for years. Admittedly, I don’t use facebook as a rich environment so much as as an address book, but the fact that I can say, “Hm, I’m visiting NYC. I know Jenny got a job there after college, we should grab a drink” and then actually find a way to get in touch with Jenny is really useful.

  • 7 Living with the Twitter « cubiyanqui // Jul 16, 2009 at 7:20 am

    [...] Media Leave a Comment Tags: Julian Sanchez, Social Media, Twitter Julian Sanchez looks at Social Media Burnout After resisting for a while, I finally signed up for Twitter a little over a year ago because it [...]

  • 8 Tips for Managing Social Media Burnout | David Lee King // Nov 20, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    [...] Social Media Burnout [...]

  • 9 Harriett // Apr 4, 2013 at 9:31 pm

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