Archive for May, 2015

The problem with digital social connections

 

I was interested to see this piece on TechCrunch this morning.

Wiith is described as something akin to Tinder, but with a focus on shared social experiences. Clearly the term ‘shared social experiences’ is open to broad interpretation, and I have no doubt that Wiith will be useful to the same fine people that managed to force Adult Friend Finder to pivot from its initial bearing as a social network for golfers. Deviants aside, Wiith is an interesting prospect and a reflection of a similar idea I had a year or so ago.

Two things really bug me about mainstream social platforms…

The first is selection bias. No matter whether you’re talking about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tinder or Grindr, new connection recommendations are typically based on shared attributes. Facebook wants me to meet Jill because we have 12 friends in common; LinkedIn wants me to meet Bob because we work in the same industry; and Tinder wants me to meet the Harris twins because – well, that ain’t gonna happen ‘cos I’m a happily married man. My point is, while digital social platforms have made it easier to meet new people, the selection of new connections based on the requirement of shared attributes is tantamount to inbreeding, and I don’t believe that’s a good thing.

Despite 500+ connections, my LinkedIn gene pool is so shallow you could dive in and smack your head on the bottom. My Facebook and Twitter profiles are no better – packed to the gunwales with colleagues and contemporaries. This is great for recruiters and those looking for a little industry chit chat, but useless in all other contexts. Back in my bar fly days I used to meet interesting, random people all the time – builders, bailiffs and bartenders (lots of bartenders), famous actors, authors, musicians and photographers, former mercenaries, convicted murderers… Thanks to the social networks’ recommendation algorithms, the opportunities for such wild and exhilarating encounters are now practically non-existent.

The other problem lies in the inherent agenda of social connections. While Facebook is less of an issue in this regard, connection requests are invariably tied up with an agenda of some kind. That LinkedIn request is from a headhunter or would-be supplier; the new Twitter follower is a content marketer wanting to leverage my reach and influence; and that Tinder request (ok bad example – Like I said, I’m a married man and don’t use Tinder).

I’ve come to realise that while our species is now more connected than it has ever been, we’ve also never been so lonely. Our social networks are designed to surround us with people just like ourselves, who invariably want something from us. The opportunity to meet new and interesting people for no other reason than to enjoy human interaction just doesn’t exist in today’s social networks, but it should.

Is Wiith the answer? Will it solve these ills and lead our species to the richness and fulfilment of genuine human interaction? Who knows. Maybe not, but it’s a nice idea and hopefully a sign of more to follow.