Phillip Smith

"See you lata'" is the new "beta." Exploring an epidemic of opting out.

Is it just me, or is there a bit of a collective unconscious thing going on here? Perhaps it's just a "meme" that is spreading like a avian virus throughout the networks that I'm connected to via my work; networks that typically are pretty "techie" and kinda' into social media.

When did it start? I can't put my finger on it exactly, but there was a feeling like the world had hit the backside of a bubble or a bell curve when Lauren Bacon wrote "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter." A self-described Web "early adopter and enthusiast of all things internetty" had given in to the irresistible final frontier of social media: Twitter.

From that point on, there was a quickening: it was the dawn of the late-adopter-early-adopter, and then came the rush of the rest of the world. In summary: social media was mainstream. It was talked about in mainstream media and had become the basis for many a party game (Who's going to mention Facebook first tonight?).

But, there was another energy in the room that day. It was the yin to the yang, the black to the white, and the rebel to the mainstream. There it was: a collective sigh and "We told you so," followed by the question "What the !@#$% do we do now that everyone is on Twitter." And, with that, the air started to slowly leek out of the ballon. Pffffffffffffsssssssssssssssssssss. No shit. Just like that.

I had heard the rumblings! You probably heard them too? People lamenting the state of the virtual non-state. First, Second Life seemed to fall off the edge of the world as people starting getting a first life. It was like a collective cheer: "Hey Second Life! Welcome to Dumpsville, population you." Then there was MySpace and so on. And, unless you lived in the kind of country that doesn't love Starbucks, it was like all that was left was a social media monoculture: Facebook, or Twitter (or maybe LinkedIn if you're a bit square).

Well, nature abhors a monoculture, and so it seems with the InterWebby-thing. Without the b-list, c-list, and -- heck -- d-list social networks out there (coughOrkutcoughhi5coughBebocough), everyone was trying to get in on the a-list options without reading their copy of Etiquette For Dummies first. It was a classic tragedy of the commons. All of a sudden, you're following 4000 people that you don't know and have 1000 friends from a part of your life you kinda' wanted to forget.

So it was only a matter of time...

Here we are, it's the future. We rounded the corner of the 21st century and ran smack into Year of the Avatar (which was 2009 by the way, but it was a late release). The "multitude" was online, at last. And with the multitude, all of the challenging personalities that inevitability intrude on any good party (including our parents).

Then we come to this year -- 2010 -- the year where social media flatlines. Only herein lies the humour about the tragedy of the social media commons: The early adopters are becoming the early opt-outers, the drop-outs, the back-to-the-landers. Those that once built their kingdoms on social media, are now unplugging in search of a more peaceful, less distracting, existence. (It can afflict any of us at a moment's notice, it would seem.)

The search for a simple, meaningful, life takes many paths, I guess.

So, if you are weary and over-loaded and would like to opt-out too, you're in luck: You can finally get in on something early enough to qualify as an "early adopter." Everything that was old is new again, and "See you lata'" is the new "beta." Ready to opt-out? No problem: there are social media solutions ready and waiting for your call.

Let us remember, however, as we reflect on 2009 and prepare to rush into 2010, that not much has really changed in life. Those things that fulfilled us before social media are still hanging around: friends, family, nature, and so on. So, as it happens, in this one aspect of life -- second life vs. first life -- you can have your cake and eat it too. Just take care not to eat so much that you get sick.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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