In an age long ago, when internet discussion forums were a dime a dozen, and before sites like Facebook and Twitter took off, you could actually find intelligent discussions on the internet. People would generally “network” by joining a discussion group that matched their interests, and take off from there.

Back then, the narcissism was of a very low calibre. You didn’t have to constantly sift through people’s vacation photos or re-postings from other sites to find relevant content. In those days, relevance was only a few clicks away. Granted, admins could often be jerks—as they still are today. But those jerks would at least give you a reason why they moderated your content.

Incidentally, even engine results were better, because they would let you actually find what you were looking for. Remember the “Cache” feature that Google used to have? The internet of 15-20 years ago may have had its limitations. But content was a lot more user-controlled than it is nowadays, when everything is managed by algorithms.

When social media took off around 2008-2009, the large discussion boards hunkered down and still did their thing nonchalantly. But by 2011 and 2012 they were in trouble. Intriguing user “walls” and ‘likeable’ photo galleries had replaced the pert avatars of the Yahoo chat era, and made them obsolescent.

At some point during the last decade, the public’s content preferences shifted from impersonal & data-based to opinion-based & personal. For users, the net result wasn’t entirely a bad thing. Now someone could have all of their interests consolidated under one big blue banner. And the discussion groups seemed a lot more dynamic. The limitations could be lived with because the benefits in other areas were greater.

But at that time, few who had lived through internet’s Golden Era could have reckoned on the toll that social media would ultimately take on content relevance. As things became more personalized, users insidiously lost their ability to customize content. This was effected chiefly through algorithms and the progressive streamlining of user controls and content settings.

The impossibility of locating that thing that you are looking for is now an accepted condition of the internet world in which we live, move, and breathe. But did it have to be? Users can still create content ad infinitum. But they can only manage content within very narrow parameters. The walls are closing in every day. As the interface gets more and more streamlined, users lose more control over data.

The worst factor of social media’s takeover of content, is that it cheapened the public’s definitions of “discussion.” It took everything from the Phil Donahue level to that of Jerry Springer. Sensationalism, emotionalism, name calling, and harmful stereotyping are now the norms within social media. Some of this is fueled by “press-driven” media. But a lot of it is fueled by how we approach information.

With the decline of the big, user-friendly, faceless, but well-regulated discussion boards, users have been re-programmed to approach data and discuss things only a certain way. Fact-checking is not done as much as it should be. Whereas thoughtful response is a relic of past ages. Knee-jerk reactionism is the preferred method; and the more spastically you react, the more your wheels will get greased.

Obviously, this defeats the whole purpose of social networking. But it is what it is. Social Media still has its selling points. But more users are becoming disenchanted with the environment in which they now find themselves. They sense that all is not as it should be. Not to even mention the selling of personal data, but REAL content is getting harder to come by. And REAL discussion is a thing of the past.

Where will it all end? We do not know. However, sometimes we long for old finger-tapping days of dialup delays and annoying McAfee updates. It was a time when people we spoke to were often usernames and handles. But it was also a time when content reigned supreme. It was a time when you had to think before you responded. Unfortunately, it was a time that is gone forever.

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