the brittle loneliness of the constantly-connected world

I’m working on a longer article about this topic for Berklee’s Music Business Journal, but it’s a theme, I think, worth exploring from a variety of vantage points. [UPDATE: Here’s the article.]

The main thrust of my journal article is that social media has failed to live up to its promise. Essentially, the guttering candle flame that looked as if it might ignite an entire “markets are conversations” moment, has been extinguished, and in its place…

Well, there’s the rub.

It seems most can agree to feeling, at best, frustrated by social media in its varied incarnations. I don’t believe a day goes by for me where I don’t hear someone talk about how they’re tired of Facebook, etc. However, people are loath to abandon it (the cost of quitting – moving/losing all those photos – is too high). Related, no alternative has emerged.

I’m not sure, however, that it’s just fatigue that is making people dissatisfied. Rather, I think it’s an unfulfilled promise. For a moment, FB (etc.) seemed to offer authentic connection, and, thus, hope with respect to our greatest collective fear: loneliness.

As those connections — once co-opted — became increasingly less authentic, the value of these social networks fell. The promise of not-lonely disappeared.

There are moments of authentic connection out there, however. It takes some looking. It takes following the bread crumbs (often originating on FB).

One such example that works for me is the newly-introduced live stream sessions on Daytrotter. And, yes, full-disclosure, I’ve been working with Daytrotter for ~4 years now.

Why these work for me is their authenticity. You hear the artists creating in real time…warts and all.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and this to me is magic. The tech disappears. The intimacy re-appears. For the time that the artists put themselves out there, there is a bond between listener and artist. For this time, we’re not alone, and we’re not lonely.

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  1. Susie Codd’s avatar

    Spot on, George.  You nailed it!  Thanks for so eloquently describing what I’ve felt for quite some time!  


    1. George Howard’s avatar

      thanks, Susie.




    2. Andrew Goodrich’s avatar

      Thanks for sharing. Reminds me of an article from Gladwell last month:  Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted

      Our understanding of social media is evolving as social media itself evolves from our understanding of it. And it evolves so fluidly, almost unnoticeable, that as soon as we think we have something intelligent to say about it, we’re wrong, and we feel disillusioned, even disenfranchised. The same “waiting for the hand of God” syndrome that you talk about so much in the music business has plagued us in social media and left us butt-hurt about the whole thing. Facebook is so NOT like the confused, solipsist dating service we all wanted it to be, and instead it is a really fucking great trapper keeper. It is an elegantly organized filing system. But as long as we keep judging it with the criteria of a dating service, we ourselves are going to stay confused as to our role. To the extent that I can say this without undermining the importance of social media, we are making much ado about nothing.

      A ‘social network’ is little more than its literal definition: a societal intersection of horizontal and vertical lines. Or an elegant catalog of how we interact. Sometimes quiet and sometimes loud (depending on your privacy settings) of what exists in real life. Still, it’s upon US as people to DO SOMETHING. That’s what gives it value. Either social media amplifies (bigger screen, louder voice, more readers) what already exists, or it is a self-serve station where we can choose to take something that exists online with us offline, to do something with back in the real world. But to think that social media is itself some kind of solution to a problem, or some kind of value-generating machine, is absolutely false. It is nothing more than a trapper keeper. A fucking great one, but still a tool which needs a function. Is an empty trapper keeper valuable unto itself? Without people actually DOING stuff, well…it’s the sine qua non of social media. I think we all generally tend to ignore this elephant in the room. There’s nothing happening in social media that isn’t happening in the real world. And there is much in the real world not happening in social media. Our reconciliation lies somewhere in between.

      I feel like I’m just fumbling with words here, but I hope I can add to this conversation…


      1. George Howard’s avatar

        this adds a ton to the conversation.

        really struggling with it.

        i think what I’m coming down to is that social media has moved from being about joy to being about utility.

        while tools (utility) can bring joy (music instruments, cooking utensils, etc.), it’s a fine line, and once something tilts towards utility, there seems to be a diminution of joy.

        clearly, sm is – for both users and marketers – a tool. the joy has – in large degree – gone away.




      2. Nigel Rafferty’s avatar

        Hey GH! Been reading. Hope all is well.

        In response to this:

        Im not sure if loneliness is exactly the right word I would use for the loss of intimacy on Facebook. I also don’t believe that Facebook ever meant to ‘promise’ us any sort of intimacy, in fact, quite the opposite. Facebook is the ultimate cocktail party, right? I think it was born on that idea. There’s just a whole lot more party goers, and its way harder to keep a conversation than it used to be. It has become a jungle of memes and videos and all sorts of other internet debauchery that shouldn’t have left Reddit in the first place.

        I’ll try and summarize as only a recent college graduate could: Facebook is like the huge house party that was really cool at first, but then all the drunken idiots come and float the keg, and play terrible music. All you wanna do is just grab your friends and go to another, calmer, cooler location. (But you still wanna party).

        And that next location for me, is TWITTER! I don’t believe that twitter much falls into the category of unbearable clutter. Twitter is still the beacon of conversational intimacy that it has always proven to be. Whereas FB might have peaked, I think Twitter has only just scratched the surface of usefulness in marketing.

        I tweet with my buddies back and forth all the time, in a seemingly intimate way. Like we’re all in the same room, but we’re not. We have a little 5-person twitter club going. Its great. I will say that its a lot easier with an iPhone.

        For Governors Ball music fest, for which I am now taking the twitter reigns, I tweet back and forth with our followers all the time. In fact, I just had a twitter convo in french AS gov ball! From a marketing standpoint, twitter carries the promise and continues to prove that Markets are conversations.



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