Yesterday, two events occurred that epitomized the new decade and marked changes in modern communication: the Oxford comma was eliminated from the University of Oxford’s Style Guide and Google unveiled its new social media platform, Google+.
This prompted several responses from People of the Internet: They asked, as Vampire Weekend so aptly put it in 2008, who gives a fuck about the Oxford comma? Second, who gives a fuck about Google+?
In an age where Oxford commas are no longer relevant, it’s apparent social media is here to stay. In the past year, it’s conceived celebrities, humbled politicians and fueled a revolution. But with the seemingly solid foundation of Facebook and its cuter stepsister, Twitter, I was wondering: why do we need another social media site?
When I first joined Facebook (a bit later than my peers, who were alumni of the University of MySpace), I was cautious of who I friended and what I shared. I was that awkward Facebook friend that didn’t know how to use certain applications –the one that poked you on accident and sent you unintentionally formal messages instead of just posting on your Wall. When I finally figured out what the hell a ‘Wall’ was, I started abusing it like crazy. I used it to promote my events, my projects and my work. Then I got bored one night and made a Twitter; it basically was the same thing, except with #ironichashtags. Somewhere along the way, I traded my Xanga for a WordPress and I just recently switched over to Tumblr. I’m a social media whore. This has been good professionally because as a twentysomething, I pimp myself out to employers eager to jump on the social media band wagon. In short, I get how flexible social media is and I understand the benefits of its fluidity. Based on the number of users Facebook and Twitter have seduced over the past 7 years (600 million and 200 million, respectively), I think many other people do too.
People know they want to connect with other people and they’ve acknowledged, by signing their souls to more accounts, that the Internet is a great way to reach this goal. That is why, when I opened up my Gmail account yesterday and saw a Google+ invite sitting pretty in my inbox, I signed up, all the while applauding myself for getting ahead of the social media curve.
But again, who gives a fuck? Companies are just going to keep churning out new social media platforms with other sites, betting that our desire to connect with others will live long enough to increase their profits. What makes Google+ any different from what we’ve all been doing on Facebook?
Well, since I signed up for an account so willingly, I’ll tell you. So far, social media sites have enabled interactions we never thought possible: Facebook redefined friendship in a way that gave us more friends. Twitter redefined loyalty in a way that brought us more followers. Who doesn’t want that? Although both these sites have allowed us to categorize friends and followers, Google+ allows users to classify our connections in a more simple and attractive way.
In Google+’s YouTube introduction, it acknowledges the presence of “people that matter” and people who don’t. Google is capitalizing on a guilty pleasure that all social media users get off on. No, not stalking. Categorizing. Facebook has “groups” and Twitter has “lists,” but Google+’s circles, which start out with Friends, Family, and Acquaintances, allow you to actively catalog people into varying levels of importance. While this application is essentially no different than the categorizing occurring on other sites, the importance Google+ places in organizing people gives it an edge. People want the visual experience of placing one group of friends over another. Hell, I want it. It makes me feel more organized and it allows me to justify secretly hating some of my “friends.” In nicer terms, I want the gratification of knowing I’ve met hundreds of people but I still crave the intimacy of a close-knit group.
Inevitably, Google+ will be just as obsolete as the Oxford comma. The same way modern grammar nerds scoff at the idea that someone once wanted to precede a coordinating conjunction with a small fleck known as a “comma,” future social media gurus will ridicule the way we all attempted to connect with each other over a system as primitive as the “Internet.”
If you want your legacy of human communication to be as ephemeral as 1-2-Ctrl+Z, go ahead and sign up for as many social media accounts as I have. But if you want something a little more durable, talk to people in real life make a bigger offer for MySpace and create the next big thing.