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.