6 Signs We’ve Entered the Post-Social Era
People like to label things; tall, short, first, second, Gen X, Gen Y, etc. It gives us a sense of order. The web gets categorized too. We’ve had Web 1.0, Web 2.0, The Semantic Web, Social Media, etc. While the distinctions are somewhat arbitrary, they help to put things in perspective. Recently, I’ve been thinking about where we are in the history of the web and what I see tells me we are unequivocally entering the Post-Social era.
How we got here: A very quick review
The various eras of the World Wide Web (as opposed to the Internet as a whole) are loosely divided into the following eras:
- Web 1.0: Users could view webpages, but not contribute to the content.
- Web 2.0: Users could interact with websites and collaborate with one another in virtual communities. This ultimately gave rise to the “social web.”
- Web 3.0 (A.K.A. the Semantic Web): Characterized by common frameworks that allow data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.
Been there, done that
Due to the Social Web’s amazing ability to connect people, I like to think of the Social Media era as an overlapping era to Web 2.0 as opposed to it being merely just one of many components. However, regardless of where you place it, the impact of the Social Web on the lives of over a billion people (and counting) will be remembered as a watershed event in human history. Indeed, that story is still being written and like all things that live and grow, the Social Web continues to evolve.
While we’re still very early in the evolution of the Social Web, this first era of Social Media can be characterized by the development of its infrastructure and global adoption. In other words, the tools to connect people had to be built and then people had to learn how to use them.
So, then what’s Post-Social about?
Post-Social is the next step in the evolution of the Social Web. It’s characterized by expanded reach, greater capabilities, empowerment, potential hazards and exploitation that will continue to have a dramatic impact on our daily lives. Specifically, Post-Social is about:
While the rapid spread of powerful cell (i.e. smart) phone and tablet computing may, arguably, be putting an end to the desktop era, the more profound impact of these technologies is literally changing the lives of billions of people throughout the world. These are people who, for a variety of reasons, will never own a desktop computer, but they don’t need one. They have cell phones and these devices are quickly being upgraded to “smart” phones. As a result, by placing the computing power of a PC and the connective power of a global Internet in the palm of their hands, their lives are being transformed socially, economically and politically.
It’s one thing to create a vast infrastructure to connect people around the globe. It’s quite another when you add the capability to perform incredibly useful tasks. That’s what I called a game changer in Twitter’s new deal with Comcast. It wasn’t the announcement that, very soon, users are going to be able to set their DVRs via a tweet. It’s the potential to do things like schedule meetings, book airline tickets, buy and sell products (and more) from those tweets. And it’s not just Twitter. Facebook and Google are developing similar capabilities. This transforms social media from an interactive bulletin board into a utility.
We live in turbulent economic times. High and pervasive unemployment, widening personal income disparity, minimal wage growth, squeezed business margins and government debt and paralysis are now the new normal. However, the Post-Social Web is providing powerful tools for people to act more like mini-corporations. It’s now easier than ever for Average Joe to build, manage and market services and products. To be sure, Amazon and eBay, among others, have provided those tools for years, but now Average Joe can build his own Amazon or eBay (free of the constraints of those behemoths) and build a thriving business without having to worry about a “job.”
As with Me-Commerce, it’s not just that it’s easier than ever for Average Joe to produce his own “TV” show, complete with sophisticated special effects, and to distribute that show instantaneously to a global audience. It’s that Joe can now compete against billion dollar media conglomerates and Hollywood’s two hundred million dollar blockbusters for less than a week’s salary. Sure, the content has to be appealing to someone, but this same capability gives individuals the potential to transform entire societies. Indeed, the next George Lucas is making the next Star Wars in his parents garage right now, but what if that George Lucas is actually the next Gandhi, but with a global following?
- Your Reputation:
On July 5, 1993, The New Yorker Magazine published a now famous cartoon whose caption read, “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” What this meant was that it was easy to hide who you were on the web. Some people used it as a means to reinvent themselves. Others had more sinister reasons. For better or worse, this is no longer true. With countless websites that now track your every move online, and with so many sites refusing to delete any bit of data they’ve collected about you, it’s more important than ever to live by a new maxim, “don’t do anything that you wouldn’t be proud to have your grandmother see.” However, there are much larger risks. For example, insurance companies might charge you higher rates because you were seen (on someone else’s profile!) drinking an innocent beer. Guess what? You’re now a high risk. Or perhaps you won’t get approved for that mortgage. Or maybe you’ll lose your job. It’s happening today.
- The Illusion of Privacy:
Of equal concern is the illusion of privacy. While the U.S. Constitution does not mention privacy, it’s a common misconception that Americans have that right. They don’t (though some Amendments and court decisions support certain aspects of the concept). However, in a Post-Social world with sites like Facebook (who just eliminated your ability to block people from searching for you by name) and now Google granting themselves permission to use your likeness to market products to your friends, acquaintances and coworkers, your ability to protect and control your likeness and keeping aspects of your life private is quickly coming to an end. This can have very serious repercussions. Not only will companies use your likeness to sell products that you may not want to endorse, you won’t get compensated either. What’s more, let’s say you’re an author writing a novel about neo-Nazis and a website decides to share the fact that you’re visiting Nazi websites (even if it’s just for research). Or perhaps you have a health condition and now a website is using your likeness to market a drug that you’ve been prescribed to manage your condition. The dangers are very real.
While I don’t know specifically how Post-Social will impact you, your family and your career, its impact will be dramatic. Post-Social is indeed going to be a strange new world full of amazing rewards and hazards. Are you ready?
So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below (and please tweet this post. Thanks!).