The magic is gone



I’ve been on a 2 week summer vacation and hardly spend any time on “Social Media” services. On return I found myself not getting back into old habits as easily. I haven’t spend a lot of time on Twitter or Friendfeed. I hardly ever use Facebook, I can’t even recall when I went there last.

Instead I found myself spending much more time communicating with people I actually know in real life. Not just family and friends, but also people I know professionally. I use my Family Social Network, e-mail (yeah!), physical meetings and my mobile. I am reading a lot more than before. Getting into people’s blogs (I still love Google Reader), reading longer posts and books.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty average user when it comes to social media. I follow about 900 people on Twitter, and am followed by slightly more. I’ve always made sure I tweeted more than the nr of followers I have (so far about 2500 tweets) . I don’t know how many people I follow on Friendfeed or the amount that follow me. I have hundreds of Facebook friend requests, even a lot from “old” friends, but I don’t touch the service. I am on Flickr, but stopped using it. BrightKite, Google Lattitude, great services, but no big deal to me. Instead of looking for alerts daily I’ve noticed that I forget to start or look at services I used to watch daily.

I’ve asked myself what causes this change in behavior. It’s actually quite simple. Public interaction isn’t providing me as much value (joy) as when I started. It’s something I knew would happen. Everything becomes social, but as we now have the ability to interact anywhere with anyone, I find myself scaling down the conversation to a core set of family members, friends, and professionals I interact with. Enough is enough already. The magic is gone.

I don’t see myself as a front runner and I do think that I’m that much different from others. I believe that public social interaction is great, but nevertheless not sustainable. WTF? The whole world is participating, and I’m questioning it’s sustainability? I’m not talking about services here, nor am I talking about professional usage. I’m talking about the individuals using these services. It’s very seductive to dive into and join this global conversation. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, there are new things and new people to be discovered every day. But let’s face it. How many ‘friends’ do you really, really (I mean really!) interact with? Invest time and energy in?

We might follow or be followed by ten thousands of people, but our human nature tries to scale down this herd (community) into workable proportions. We may do this by following celebrities or in our case tech pop stars. We may use sophisticated services or preferences to tailor the experience to our needs. Or simply ignore most of the stuff passing by and only get into conversations with the same 10, 20 or 100 people. Why do you think the web latest and biggest invention is the status update? The status update addresses our human inability to process a lot of complex real-time data. Instead we flatten it out into 140 characters that we can barely process. I’m suspecting that there are billions of status updates by now, and most of them are ignored. It’s a self-perpetuity engine of waste. If I were an environmentalist, I would attempt to stop part of this ridiculous pumping around of useless information, and save the planet πŸ˜‰ Of course all of this is nothing new. We already shared important stuff with people. The only thing that has changed is the technology and the scale. Visits, letters, phone calls, they have been replaced by E-mail, Social Networks, SMS and now status updates.

While technology has provided us scale, our human nature tries to scale back down using every opportunity and technology we have. We can’t cope with that much interaction, nor does it provide us enough value. I’ll still be on the networks that I like and care about. I’ll interact with the people that interact with me. But don’t expect me to be Social Media-izing 24×7. It’s not because of you or the great things that you have to offer. It’s my human limitations, and the fact that public interaction is less important. I’ll do what I always liked best. I’ll dive into the river every one in a while, have a great time, only to get out again and do something more useful.


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18 Responses to The magic is gone

  1. I completely agree with you Alexander. Proof? I actually read your entire post, even though it’s longer than 3 lines…

    About the number of people one can ‘manage’, there’s an interesting account on this subject by Malcolm Gladwell in his brilliant book ‘the Tipping Point’. It actually refers to ‘Dunbar’s number’ (check Wikipedia for more info) and the longer I spend on the internet, the more I find this to be a really accurate theory/number.

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  3. Jules says:

    Interesting thoughts. They sound triggerd by a reverse culture shock, or re-entry shock (see wikipedia).

    You’re not describing the first days of your holiday. Did it take you time to get used being offline and to let your alerts unread?

    • It’s not really something that happened all of a sudden. I predicted this would happen a long time ago already.
      Starting with Social Media is addictive at start. Being able to interact with anyone feels great. I still love the ability, but the magic simply wears off. It becomes a tool or a pleasant time I can spent when I feel like it. It isn’t a need for me as an individual. It is definitely handy for me as a professional. I’ve always considered it to be a river you can dive into every once in a while. Feels refreshing, but you need to get out and do other things too.

      I simply went offline at the start of vacation. No big deal really.

  4. Melanie Reed says:

    “Visits, letters, phone calls, they have been replaced by E-mail, Social Networks, SMS and now status updates.” Amen! Alexander. And this calls into question the mood and the circumstances of society that precipitated that transition as well. I have a friend who actually “quit” twitter for awhile last spring and would only answer emails and phone calls. Why? For exactly the point you make. I recall with sad and distant pleasure, standing as a little girl outside by the mailbox in front of our tract house waiting for a letter from my uncle all the way from California. The memory relives the magic for me. Social Media, while a great tool for work and the occasional (LD) conversational engagement is helpful, even pleasurable (especially if one is home bound). But nothing will replace the handmade gift of those letters and the memories of his visits.

    • @Melanie, I can fully relate to your example of the letter arriving πŸ™‚

      Interacting online, with people you’ve never meet in real-life is great. But it is also a bit hit and run.

      In the end it is the people that are close to us that really matter, whether they are family, friends or colleagues.

  5. Twitter is a better mass feed aggregator/filtering-aid than Google Reader will ever be. It forces people to write good summaries. 140 letters > an unrestricted in length paragraph when it comes to filtering out the non relevant stuff.

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  7. erwin blom says:

    Alexander, i think you should write I more often than WE. Because by writing WE you pretend to talk in behalf of US. I say speak for yourself and don’t make things bigger than they are. And don’t pretend to be not different from the masses and at the same time do your best to mingle on the internet with the Scobles of the world. You are a frontrunner, admit it. I like you as a frontrunner, if you’re not, why reading what you write? Then i’ll talk to my neighbour!

    • Erwin,

      I’ll try to unravel and explain myself, because I think I understand where you are getting at.

      This is my personal blog. It is not work related, if I write about my work, I will specifically say so. When you say I pretend not to be different from the masses while at the same time mingling with the Scobles of this world, you are actually comparing two different things. One is my personal view about this world that I live in, and the other is my professional role as CEO for Glubble.
      I may be a frontrunner (that simply depends on the framework used to define what a frontrunner is), but I am not a frontrunner for the sake of it. In other words, it is not my desire nor profession to be a frontrunner. I try things out, and then I try to find value in them. If I find that value, it stays, otherwise it goes away. And I will use my experiences to write about it here.

      About your statement that I should use ‘I’ more often than “we’. I haven’t counted them but I am pretty sure that I have used ‘I’ about 10x more often than ‘we’ in this post πŸ˜‰ Having said that, I DEFINITELY have a tendency to generalize in my writing. A good example of that is:
      “While technology has provided us scale, our human nature tries to scale back down using every opportunity and technology we have. We can’t cope with that much interaction, nor does it provide us enough value.”

      I am not a behavioral scientist, but when I see people around me behave in a certain way, I am likely to use ‘we’. ‘People’ are continuously struggling with the amount of data that they need to process. ‘We’ try to use technology to deal with that, etc. etc. You see where that comes from…… Perhaps I should be a bit more careful about this generalization.

      Finally, I am not speaking on behalf of you or anyone else. I view this as a place where I get to think out loud. You do not have to agree with anything I write, and I always welcome other opinions. If I generalize too much, point it out, but also provide me with your view on the matter itself. That is the type of interaction that will get us further to understanding things.

      Whether you care about reading my blog or talk to your neighbor. Well, that is your responsibility, not mine.

  8. Colin Walker says:


    We’ve had some great conversations in the past and I hope you know that I have a great respect for what you have to say. In this particular case I find myself agreeing with you more than ever.

    I have just dipped my toe back into the social media world after being out of it for around 6 months, hence only finding this post now.

    I didn’t tweet, read, share, clip, or any other form of social interaction.

    As a consequence, I am now finding it incredibly hard to get back in to it. I have culled a lot of the people I was following before as they are no longer relevant to me and even those I would like to think of as relevant have moved on, are talking about different things and we just don’t connect like we did before.

    As a result I have shifted my emphasis in order to try to get a flow of communication but it just goes to show that things aren’t the same second time around.

    It’s not because the tools are not as good – they have improved, but that the conversation has shifted. Topics have come and gone and the emphasis has changed. Social media has evolved but you are still stuck in the past with no point of reference.

    When you connect on a daily basis you can keep up with the general flow of information even if you’re not on 24×7 but, step away from the river for a while and everything you were familiar with has been washed downstream. There’s no way you can get a net, fish everything back out and put it back together – no-one else will want to play.

    So, what are the options?

    It’s hard as you find yourself being the outsider looking in; even though you KNOW these people they may as well be talking another language.

    There has been a shift over time, the conversation has moved. The movement isn’t fast and those still involved all adapt to the changes as they are gradual – tectonic plates slowly shifting over the millenia. Step away from it all for any length of time, however, and a great ocean has opened between the continents and it is hard to bridge that gap.

    I don’t know what the answer is but I have started blogging again (two posts at our new business site) and am trying to get back into the habit of tweeting on a regular basis.

    Friendfeed is beyond me at present. The service has changed enormously in six months and it feels even harder to re-connect there than it does on Twitter.

    I am just taking things one step at a time and seeing what conversations develop and what connections I can forge or recreate. It’s not going to be easy.

    What remains to be seen is if it’s all worth it.

    • @Colin, so nice to see you back again πŸ™‚

      Conversation changes over time, people come and go, topics are trending and gone, celebrities stand up and fall down, friendfeed is the hippest service in town, and then sells, early adopters hail hurray on the next fling, only to move on to the next again. Everything moves πŸ˜‰

      I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You can always join any conversation taking place now. Becoming part of a community is a bit different. That takes time and effort. And it’s up to you if you want to put that effort in.

      Glad to see you around again πŸ™‚

  9. Colin Walker says:

    Perhaps a lot of the fun of social media has gone.

    With twitter, facebook et al all being seen as ways to leverage your business, promote your brand and everyone being an expert what drew me to it all in the first place is taking a back seat: people just connecting, communicating and sharing.

    Now, social media seems to consist of products, pitching and pressurising.

    • I think it depends on who you interact with. My personal believe is that larger communities lead to the things you describe above. That is what is going on at Twitter, Facebook, and even Friendfeed now. That’s why I feel scaling down will improve quality.

      Funny enough, even Robert Scoble is scaling down as we speak.

      Hmmm, I feel an idea for a new post bubbling up πŸ˜‰

  10. Colin Walker says:

    We did always play off of each other πŸ˜‰ I was considering a post myself.

    I’ll let you do first.

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