Empty Calorie Social Networking

I’m an enthusiastic user of many social media. I welcome interaction on Twitter (@charleshgreen), for example. In many ways, online networking is sort of the first derivative of the old, face-to-face type—faster, shallower, but broader and more far-reaching, and with essentially the same objective.

Still, there are some differences. In ‘real’ (i.e. analog) life, socializing can be an end in itself. Online, sometimes the connection is dropped; the symbol no longer links to the symbolized. Numbers become their own narcissistic rationale.

Call it empty calorie social networking—lots of apparent connections, but with no socially nutritional value.

Buying Friends and Buying Lists

Which feels more personal to you: email addresses, or twitter handles? If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot more email addresses than twitter addresses. After all, the social media are opt-in—you choose who gets to be in your network.

But check this out.

You can buy a one-time email list of people who purchased homes in the State of New Jersey in the last 30 days. It will cost you $500 for about 5000 names—that’s $0.10 per name.

You can also buy 10,000 twitter followers for $97.00—that’s $0.01 per name—one tenth the cost of emails.

The email list is ten times more expensive than the twitter list. Still think opt-in networks are special?

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why those particular numbers might diverge, but one of them is this: a lot of the ‘social’ in ‘social networking’ is nothing of the kind. It isn’t just ‘lo-cal’ networking, it’s utterly ‘no-cal.’

Who’s Consuming All Those Empty-Calorie ‘Connections?’

I’m not talking about those who follow @charliesheen (1.8 million at this moment) or Justin Bieber (7.8 million). I’m talking about those who follow 20,000 people and who have 20,000 zombie-like followers themselves—and who have only ever published ten tweets.

What’s driving this is a perversion of relationships—reciprocity gone wild. You follow me, I’ll follow you, and we’ll all get—bigger numbers. But for what end?

There is more than a whiff of spam about all this, but that’s not all that’s going on. Spam is imposed against our will; following is not. Spam survives on one hit in 10,000—following gets darn near 100% returns. Like Pogo, we have found the enemy, and it is us.

Much as high-calorie junk food addiction is being linked to obesity in the physical realm, there’s an addictive quality about this empty-calorie following. Fat follower lists are not conducive to relationship help.

Out of control eating no longer has anything to do with nutrition; out of control follower-collecting no longer has anything to do with relationships.

Ask yourself: why are you following someone? If your answer is anything but “because they sound interesting,” enlighten me.