The Human Cost of Social Connectivity

The Egyptian Revolution is a historical event for many reasons, not the least of which is the relentless dedication of human will to overcome tyranny against all odds. For those who study social networks, the revolution is also of course significant because of the role Facebook and Twitter played in the concentration of discontent and the orchestration of upheaval. For the purpose of this discussion, I would like to focus on how Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks continue to demonstrate the revolutionary effects of network density and continue to escalate the promise of social connectivity as part of our digital sustenance.

Over the years, we’ve learned the importance of social media in our professional and personal lives. It is after all a revolution in of itself. From improving governments to socializing businesses to improving collaboration and learning to investing in personal development, social media is influencing and reshaping all it touches. But there are very real costs associated with social media and they extend well beyond technology, popular networks, trends or monumental events.

You are here because you live and breathe new media and with each day that passes, you place unprecedented value on social and mobile networks and the role they play in your livelihood. Your experiences are incredibly personal, but are also influenced by your connections. The value you glean from each network is directly correlated to the relationships you forge within each network. The content that you curate, create, and consume dictates the focus and significance of your interest graphs.  The gravity that attracts people and information to your egosystem is essentially yours and only yours to define. And, that’s the point of this post. We must study the human cost of social media to improve how it is we adopt and employ it in life, study, and work.

Aside from the inherent value of connections, engagement, and information commerce, understanding the human cost tied to social networking will help us focus precious resources to prioritize desired benefits and outcomes.

The human cost of social media is something we’re learning as we go and the price we pay for the benefits of connectivity starts with an exchange of privacy for a new era of publicy, or as Jeff Jarvis refers to i,t publicness. Privacy as we once knew it is over. The values of privacy are sacred as are the opportunities tied to living in public. Perhaps as valuable and sacred as privacy, we must also explore another human cost of social media…time.

We all know very well that activity within social networking can lead to distractions. With one click, we can find ourselves hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of fascinating experiences that have nothing to do with our initial focus. Serendipity is part of the splendor of social media, but it is something that necessitates discipline to learn, entertain and be entertained, while also staying the course. In the end, we exchange time and privacy for exposure and attention.

In addition to time and privacy, we learn that the human cost of social media is also emotion. We indeed invest a bit of ourselves in each new connection and form of expression we publish. We say a bit about who we are in all we create and share. Our actions and words put the “me “in social media and as time passes we construct a digital persona that reflects a vision of how we see ourselves and how we wish to be seen.

As in anything, when we invest emotion, we expend a great deal of energy and passion all for the promise of reactions, connections, and a sense of significance. And at the end of each day, we’re simply exhausted. Whether we realize it or not, fatigue is an inevitable product of engagement. From Social Network Fatigue to Deals Fatigue to Follow Fatigue, we are slowly realizing that we are not invincible. We are not without a very tangible perimeter of limitations.

How many networks do you call home? How many social and interest graphs are you shaping? I’m sure many of you are at least active in four or more networks including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare, Flickr, or Google Plus.

During the beta launch of Google +, I conducted a survey that asked those new to Google+ if they planned on abandoning their Facebook presences as a result of joining the new network. The response was surprising as I did not expect the number of people who would express social network fatigue.

The reality is that the cost of social networking is great and without checks and balances, engagement can cost us more capital than we have to spend. The net result is then social and emotional bankruptcy. And, the most difficult part of this unfortunate state is that it is at first difficult to recognize and far more exacting to overcome.

There’s a saying, “everything in moderation,” but it’s impossible to explore these new horizons with anything less than exuberance. This is our time and who we are online and in the real world is ours to define. But without ambition, desire, and focus, social media is a recipe for chaos. Through all of the distractions and fatigue, we must continually renew our focus to bring important goals to life based on our actions and words in each social network.

I ask you to pause for a moment. Think about what it is that inspires you. Think about what it is you are trying to achieve. Now, look at what it is you’re doing today and compare these activities and results to your aspirations. Do this at fixed intervals over time to plot your position and look ahead to where it is you’re hoping to reach. Then ask yourself, “am I on the right path?” Never stop asking that question.  The answers are more important than you might think.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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