If you're mom has started using Facebook then you won't find this recent report surprising at all.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, who released a report on Adults and Social Networking Services, "adult Internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years -- from eight percent in 2005 to 35 percent."
Social Networks or Networking Socially?
Before we delve into the psycho-social factors implicated by these findings, let's be upfront with what social networking services were included in the report. The Pew report defines social network sites as "spaces on the Internet where users can create a profile and connect that profile to others (individuals or entities) to create a personal network."
However, it didn't include other networking services that enable people to easily self-organize into social networks: Twitter, Ning, Meetup, Delicious, Digg, Slashdot, LiveJournal, for example, as well as networks where users can create content - a la citizen journalism.
That's worth pointing out because actions are limited on social networking sites like Facebook, where users are content having a profile and 128 friends and can talk within a community of people they know. Whereas with Meetup, Digg and others, users are intentionally connecting within a network that includes people they don't know.
The Pew results are interesting, regardless, because they highlight the popularity and social evolution of social media. Once just considered a youthful indiscretion and time suck, it is now one of the most popular ways to communicate with friends and family.
The Cost of Consumer Generated Media
But there are some who might use these results to demonstrate the blind consumerism associated with social media, which could blow up in our faces in 2009.
Pete Blackshaw of AdAge predicts that users will be sick and tired of social media and the widgetry, gadgetry and novelty it brings. Instead of spearheading innovation and social revolution, he thinks that we will revert back to the basics of advertising and connecting with customers, where having real conversations will customers will win out over virtual ones.
Mr. Blackshaw is worried that "we've all jumped into much of the "new" social media stuff too aggressively, often leading to an almost-compulsive need to post, twit, friend, link, and share every mundane detail of [my] life."
He refers to consumer-generated media, the younger sister of social media, as the side of the equation setting the pace in this new "age of participation." Is Facebook the smoking of our generation? Do we twitter just to be considered cool? In twenty years will we develop "social lung cancer" and sue Mark Zuckerburg and Rupert Murdoch?
The Global Advantages of Social Networking
But isn't that the rhetoric that gets associated whenever something new gains popularity at lightning speed? It's just a phase, they tell us. And presumably they are right. Only the Beatles and Television have been able to outlast their naysayers.
Yet, what's wrong with phases? Especially if they are innovative and bring us closer to the next big thing?
What Mr. Blackshaw fails to take into consideration is that we are a global world now. Advertisers can't afford to just connect to their customers in person anymore. The beauty of social networking is that we are no longer limited to talking with our neighbors down the street, as great as they may be. Social networking gives us the means and ambition to talk with people from all over and to share our different perspectives.