Young People, Old People, and the Monkeysphere



“Today, however, the newest data increasingly support the idea that young people are actually transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat. Instead of posting generic and sanitized updates for all to see, they are sharing their transient goofy selfies and blow-by-blow descriptions of class with only their closest friends.”

Source: So long social media: the kids are opting out of the online public square

I completely agree with the author’s post that young people are rapidly moving from broadcast to narrowcast social media (at least for their most important or personal communications with friend groups etc).

However, the post concludes with a note that young people might not be as aware or open to ideas outside of their close friends group if they’re not engaging in “social media” such as Facebook or Twitter.

“The great promise of social media was that they would create a powerful and open public sphere, in which ideas could spread and networks of political action could form.”

That wasn’t the great promise of social media. Social media, like Twitter, will always have an inherent imbalance. Couple that with the widespread amount of abuse and harassment, particularly of female and transgender users on Twitter, and it’s no wonder why young people would shy away from using these platforms for more meaningful engagement.

Messaging, in small groups, overcomes this. Besides, networks of political action figured out long ago that governments of political action are closely watching broadcast social media and have already turned to encrypted channels such as Telegram.

Narrowcasting isn’t just more meaningful, it has the potential to be more actionable than the hashtag laden culture that we’ve created with public tweets.

Long ago in a conversation (well, more like me pleading with him to shed some light on why he was so enamored with Second Life), my pal Wayne Porter turned me on to the idea of Dunbar’s Number. It took me over a decade to decipher Wayne (as is normally the case), but he was right. The “Monkeysphere” is very real. And it’s going to kill Facebook. It’s already killing Twitter.

I’ve written before (back in 2011) about narrowcasting and responsible marketing… looks like we’re finally getting there.

With the evolution of blogging early in the ’00s and the advent of Technorati, Delicious, Flickr, Friendster, and eventually MySpace we 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 something year olds were sold a bag of goods with a label of “social media.” It was a glorious time to be on the web. Everything from logos to AJAX to revenue models felt new as we wiped the crust of AOL from our eyes to see the wider world. Everything from grocery delivery to advertising would be revolutionized. We didn’t realize we were the intermediate step.

We were Ham The Chimp to this generation’s Mercury program. We’ve still got a long collective way to go to the Moon, though.

From churches to political campaigns to social media flame wars to real life gang fights… our brains describe so much of our weird actions. Why don’t we care about the people (well, probably robots now) collecting and sorting our trash when we throw glass bottles into a bin (recycling or no)? Why do we so easily eat and wrap our furniture with other tasty mammals who we now know have feelings, intelligence, and memories? Why do we so easily dismiss the conservatives or gays or whites or women or alcoholics or welfare moms? Because they aren’t in our Monkeyspheres.

Not to be devotional, but Lent is a time for me as a person of christian faith to reflect on that and what it means to my own impact on this connected, but ever fragmented, world.

Don’t bemoan the loss of Twitter or Facebook as avenues of advertising and marketing. Let’s shoot for the moon and make revenue models that appeal to the angels of our better selves rather than our lizard brains.

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