Listen to Radiolab’s City X. It’s a history of shopping malls told through slickly edited sound bites and Muzak.
I listened with morbid fascination based in familiarity. I grew up in the Midwest and watched as malls grew in popularity and killed off the downtowns. Now I hate shopping malls. I dislike random shopping and being cut off from the outside world. Increasingly shabby controlled environments just give me the creeps.
Listening to the Radiolab podcast got me thinking how people will remember our currently evolving online social networks in a few decades. Will they look back with nostalgia on a time when the “Web 1.0” world of static web sites and interactive e-commerce pages was gradually replaced by every online transaction being “socialized” with an opportunity for “sharing” and “relationship development”?
I can hear this future Radiolab broadcast now. Here’s an imagined interview in a couple of decades with a future 50-something:
Yeah, I remember things like Facebook. Nowadays all you have to do is think about something and you’re automatically put in touch with a global community of people like you who share the same emotional response. It’s just part of the Web and how the Government keeps watch over terrorists. Back in my day, though, we had to “join” online communities like Facebook and fill out a lot of different forms. They didn’t share anything with any other groups. That made it really hard to jump around. That crumbled when dataportability and open source netvertising took hold. I still smile when I think about Facebook. As cumbersome as it was, I was able to share some things with really close friends, but even that started to wear out when the spammers and scammers took over and the old folks started moving in.
I don’t think it’s too farfetched to compare online social networks with shopping malls. They’re both places where people go to combine socialization, cruising for the opposite sex, and shopping. Some make it harder than others to find parking, and if you go there and find nobody to hang out with, you’re off to the next place. After a while they fall into disrepair, sprout weeds, and sleazy pushcart vendors move in as “anchor” stores close.
The question is, what’s next, after shopping malls and online social networks are past?
- Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald