Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Social Media blurring our Perceptions of Reality?

It's no secret; I am a big fan of the potential of the social media. The social media affords unprecedented levels of connectivity with one's customer; as such, interactivity the likes of which have never before been seen is possible. Good stuff. Recently though, I have been examining the more alarming aspects of social media adoption. As our activities are becoming increasingly digital, I fear that we may slowly be losing touch with reality...

Many of my recent posts have recognized the impact of the economy on the organization’s brand spend. Although I am convinced that social media will weather the current economic storm, it is undeniably that new revenue generation models are required. The traditional advertising model made popular by Google is not universally applicable, and many online startups are realising this to their detriment. One of the more innovative models to emerge in recent years involves the creation of revenue through the sale of digital goods. A recent article in Business Week placed the value of virtual good sales at $1 billion dollars annually; not bad considering that the price for replicating digital products is next to nothing. The demand for virtual products has risen as a corollary of the meteroic rise of virtual worlds, such as Second Life. Marketing teams are selling these virtual goods to users, who in turn incorporate the products into their electronic existence. Whether or not this strategy is likely to represent a viable long-term revenue source is yet to be seen.

A second recent event which has caught my attention is the case of the Japanese woman who was arrested following the 'murder' of a digital character. The article, which was covered by CNN, illustrates how events contained within virtual worlds are resulting in very real consequences. The women in question logged into a fellow 'citizen's' account to commit the crime; she now faces up to five years in prison, and a $5,000 fine. Although there is more to this story than simply 'virtual murder', the fact remains; what was once perceived an entertaining past-time now represents something far more serious.

The point which I am trying to reach is that our lives seem to be playing out increasingly in digital form. Of greater concern however, is the realisation that our digital actions are having an increasingly real impact on our everyday lives. As people spend more time in a digital environ, I fear that the more absorbing social media platforms may, ironically, be making us less social; a sentiment recently echoed by Danny Brown of PR Press Release.

For all the benefits that the social media affords, there remains a need for a clear distinction between the virtual and the actual. However, as the capabilities of such facilities as Second Life become increasingly engrossing, I fear that these distinctions may become increasingly blurred.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post, Chris, and one that rings a great many truths.

    Other ways to look at it are the "virtual affairs" that happen on a daily basis - people unhappy in their marriages conducting online affairs without necessarily meeting up in real life.

    Or using online mediums to bully, like the numerous publicized examples on MySpace and Facebook (of which at least one has ended in a suicide).

    While there's no doubting that the online medium has irrevocably changed our lives forever, we need to remain entrenched in reality as well. Failure to do so could mean a disappearance of normal interaction skills - and that's a road we shouldn't really wish to go down.