Monday, September 5, 2011

Just how social can you get?

        Jennifer Cobb is a good friend, and whenever I have dinner at her house I learn two things. One, how good homemade Mexican food can be; and two, more about the relationship between technology and culture. Jenn's an expert at both.

        This time I learned how concerned she was about Internet privacy, and how what we once considered ephemeral ("Hey, I like that!") has now become a permanent part of our digital history. Our online behavior influences search results, the ads we get, and how others view us.

        Jenn is concerned because of what she sees as a problem of asymmetry. When we meet on Facebook, we don't have an equal chance of knowing about each other. A lot is held back, and she feels that's why we're not so concerned about privacy. 

        Also out of alignment are big companies' interests in us. They want to sell us. We want to learn something or get help, usually not to be sold something.

         I told this to my students, and asked them about the implications. They agreed that Facebook was getting information that they could sell to advertisers, but thought it didn't much matter. Being on Facebook was simply great fun, even though only one student said she ever learned something important on it. 

         Personally I don't mind that Facebook wants to sell ads that target me, other than the aggravation of deleting over a hundred messages a day. They usually aren't things I want, and if they are, that's positive.

         In this regard, social media really doesn't change anything. I'll still only be interested in something relevant to me, or something that's cool that I want to know about. All this talk about digital targeting makes social influence marketing appear more powerful than it really is.

         You can target the hell out of me and I still won't be interested in snowboards or water skis, books about tropical fish, or cameras that work at high altitudes, even if I told somebody that I miss the change of seasons, went to the aquarium, or love the view from the penthouse of the TransAmerica Building.

         Sure, I'd like to know what my friend Jay thinks of a movie;  his comments may convince me to go. But if he just bought green socks, that won't send me rushing to the J. Crew website, because I wear only black socks. Social media, when all is said and done, is only media, and I care less about the medium than its content.

          Please pass the salsa.

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