Innovation Talk: Growing old in the age of social apps
Davin’s Law: “Technological old age is the point at which you have more social apps on your smartphone than you have friends whom you actually want to communicate with on a regular basis.”
At a certain point, everybody who writes about technology has to attempt to capture a developing trend in a pithy phrase and hope that it enters into such widespread use that it becomes a universally recognised principle.
So here’s my effort at coining Davin’s Law: “Technological old age is the point at which you have more social apps on your smartphone than you have friends whom you actually want to communicate with on a regular basis.”
Admittedly, this is partly a tongue-in-cheek observation of how even the most ardent of social butterflies inevitably finds their social circle dwindling with every passing year, but more than that, it is supposed to point to the seemingly endless profusion of social and messaging apps that keep pouring on to the market.
You wouldn’t have to be a particularly voracious early adopter to be faced with a choice of Gmail, iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Line, Viber, BBM, MessageMe, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Branch, LinkedIn or Instagram the next time you wanted to shoot a message off to someone. Some people apparently even make use of Google+, for God’s sake.
The bewildering unbundling of the digital communications market is certainly worthy of a punchline or two, but it’s also worth pointing out because it paints Facebook’s huge $3 billion bid for private messaging and photo-sharing app Snapchat in a rather unflattering light.
There was no shortage of sceptics who looked at Snapchat’s current revenues – zero dollars, there or thereabouts – and thought Mark Zuckerberg had taken leave of his senses.
But I can’t help but feel that Zuckerberg’s huge bid for Snapchat isn’t eye-poppingly daft just because it’s inflated, though it certainly seems to be that. No, I reckon the real reason the bid is daft is because Zuckerberg basically offered to pay $3 billion for something he already had and intentionally destroyed – the trust of his users.
Before its IPO last year, I wrote a column about the failure of Facebook – a failure not in a business sense, obviously, but a more elemental sort of failure. Initially, if we recall the days of enthusiastic early adoption circa 2007, Facebook promised to build a platform to help people to keep in touch with their friends in a remarkably low-friction way.
But the relentless series of Facebook privacy fiascos marked a betrayal of that promise. “Rather than being about sharing content with a chosen circle of friends, it was attempting to coerce its users into essentially curating public blogs,” I wrote.
Our “social graph” had been a way of maintaining contact with friends we would otherwise lose touch with, and therefore a source of joy and indeed comfort. But all those privacy changes undermined that, and in the process turned the site into something vaguely threatening, a potential trap that needed to be constantly negotiated, forever just beyond our control.