Home How Social Networks are Killing the Internet

How Social Networks are Killing the Internet

Share this on Facebook! Tweet this to your followers! Pin it to Pinterest! Submit the link to StumbleUpon and drive tons of traffic to your site! Digg it and hopefully more eyeballs will see it (and then it will end up on Facebook through the Digg Social Reader). Isn’t it great? You can cross your fingers and hope that the entire social Web sees something you like if you share it to all of your social networks. After all, we are what we share.

Dictionary.com defines the verb (used with object) “to share” as “to divide and distribute in shares, apportion” and “to use, participate in, enjoy, receive, etc., jointly.” The example it gives for the later is: “The two chemists shared the Nobel prize.” They passively shared this Noble Prize, which was awarded to both of them by a committee.

Every social network on the Web asks users to do some variation on sharing. Ultimately, the goal is to get that content in front of other users. Once a user shares, he or she momentarily feels more connected to others. But this momentary connectedness is killing us. And we are, in turn, killing the Internet with our passive, networked actions.

Renowned cyberpsychologist Sherry Turkle explains it eloquently in her latest TED 2012 talk. “Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding,” says Turkle. “And we clean them up with technology. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection.

All that “connecting” is happening on – where else? – social networks. It happens subtly, so much that we hardly notice we are spending more time texting and talking on Facebook and Twitter than we are in real life, communicating with actual living, breathing humans. We hide behind our glass screens. And we seem like it that way.

The Facebook Connection Dilemna

With the advent of new Timeline social apps, such as the Digg Social Reader, WaPo Social News Reader and The Guardian UK Social Reader, it’s super easy to stay on Facebook and read what your friends are reading. It’s so much easier to get interesting recommendations from my quirky friend who shares some of the same tech and weird news interests as I do. Why wouldn’t I leave it up to the Facebook news feed‘s expert algorithm to figure out exactly what I want to read? It’s incredibly convenient, and lets me feel alright about being lazy.

The problem comes when I click on the social reader link, and it asks me to please reveal all of my data. Once I do that, I feel psychologically more connected to, and reliant upon, Facebook. This opportunistic relationship is killing me, and I in turn am killing the Internet.

StumbleUpon: Stop By & Stay Awhile, Won’t You?

The other month, I wrote about a new StumbleUpon feature that greatly upset the Internet. Previously, StumbleUpon users could stumble around the site and then leave if a specific link if they’d like by quickly closing out the screen. StumbleUpon would send users to the original site. The company decided to eliminate that option after users kept accidentally leaving StumbleUpon, thus interrupting their stumble experience.

The user is always right. StumbleUpon exists because of its users, and so why wouldn’t the company change its ways to appease those users who spend hours on end inside the site. Who could blame them? They have everything they need inside StumbleUpon, so why leave? I am not being sarcastic. StumbleUpon is a smart, creative site that perfectly tailors to its users’ individual taste graph.

StumbleUpon’s Marc Leibowitz left a comment on the ditching StumbleUpon for Pinterest story that I wrote. StumbleUpon’s users did not complain about the removal of the Web bar. “Given that our normally vocal members have NOT complained about the current implementation, however, leads us to believe this may not be quite as provocative an issue as this post suggests,” he says. “Nevertheless, as I say, we are exploring other options.” Not long after that, StumbleUpon CEO Garrett Camp blogged the following:

Our previous StumbleBar design included an ‘X’ button (to close the iframe if you wanted to view the original URL) but we didn’t initially make this as part of the redesign for signed-in members. We received several requests for this feature over the last few weeks, so as of today we will be adding this back in for signed-in members. This lets you hide the StumbleBar to see the original link, and simply click back afterwards to return to Stumbling.

There’s an easier way for users to leave StumbleUpon now. But does it matter? Users of the social Web prefer to stay inside social networks, discovery engines and other insular spaces. It’s safe, it’s easy and most of all, it’s convenient.

How We Are Killing the Internet

Not being able to share across the Web and, instead, being able to share only on social networks, isn’t new. Tristian Louis of TNL.net blogged about his experience using Path, which did not allow him to share out. “But eventually, the inability to share over the Web started grating at me as I realize that I was trapped in Path’s truck,” he writes. “I stopped using the service.”

I have daydreams of organizing all of my friends to do a mass exodus from Facebook. But truth be told, we’d probably all quit for a week and then return, hungry for status updates, viral graphics and meandering bulletpoint-y super-sharable blog posts which hardly qualify as articles.

Facebook is an alluring black hole that welcomes us in, and asks us to stay awhile. It’s possible to leave, but no matter what I always come back. I have given up on the idea of leaving. Now I just check the site more from my Facebook mobile app than the Web version, and get annoyed when I can’t easily share stories and images from it. Like a smoker who needs their nicotine fix, I am a social networker and I need my data.

Louis’ essay delves into the dangers of quietly moving from the Web version to the mobile app, rather than trying to figure out how to fix the Web. It’s easier to just think about the apps. Smartphones are must-have accessories. He continues the essay, pointing out the user-hungry move into Facebook territory, which contributes to the death of the Internet at large, and the continual push of users into social networks – like cows into a slaughterhouse:

When­ever I bumped into a silo like Face­book, I may have grum­bled but I didn’t leave. In fact, I pushed more con­tent into it, not ask­ing that it push con­tent back out. I did that because that’s where the read­ers were, where I could get more users, etc…

Then PIPA/SOPA/ACTA happened, and we all freaked out. For a minute. Then it went away and we forgot, content to passively share on our social network of choice.

How to Save the Internet, Social Networks, All Of It: Make It a Two-Way Street

I will not summarize all of Louis’ smart article here. Instead, I will send you out to the Internet, to the original site where this story lives. I hope you won’t share the story to Facebook; instead, email it to your friends. Tell your friends to go online and Google it. Print it out and pass it around to some of your Internet-obsessed friends, in person. I promise you won’t kill too many trees in the process. Do not tell your friends to do anything that feels like sharing it on a social network. Then think about it. Reminder: Don’t share it on Facebook.

Go to this link: http://www.tnl.net/blog/2012/03/03/i-killed-the-internet/

Scroll down to “Will you revive it?”

And follow the instructions.

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