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A Short And Hopeful History Of Social Media

Social media has always been the home of meaningless indignation.

What do you do when you’re angry about something no one else cares about? Share it on social media. So as we started to each find our own voices on a platform that could reach micro-audiences, the easy thing to do was to use it as a place for venting. Flight delays, rude waiters, critiquing the latest episode of our favorite TV show were all common topics.

venting on facebook 2No one really cared, but that was ok because hardly anyone was really paying attention anyway. After all, the point of venting is usually inherently selfish to make yourself feel better, right?

Of course, our fascination with the insignificant didn’t end there. It then (d)evolved quickly into an ongoing dance to portray ourselves as sufficiently happy, balanced, and successful individuals. Posts about new cars, new babies, and new vacations filled each of our feeds and offered an endless parade of good times for the world to see.

This sea of positivity created a sort of FOMO-driven social media paranoia captured perfectly in actress Mindy Kaling’s only partially satirical title for her first book: “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

And then came selfies.

selfie duck faceMercilessly mocked for their ability to showcase narcissism in the form of duck face photos – the selfie has changed how we think about social media. Rather than just sharing thoughts about the moment in real time, selfies started us thinking about how to share that moment while still injecting ourselves into it.

The hottest new social media apps are promising to help us do the same thing, through live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope. So social media has completed that evolution from sharing thoughts to sharing experiences. Yet as this shift slowly gained traction, something unexpected happened.

People decided to become vulnerable.

Today my Facebook feed is not only filled with congratulations messages for graduates or holiday plans, but also with friends sharing amazingly personal stories of dealing with the passing of a loved one, or getting a diagnosis of cancer, or the painful experience of losing a baby.

These are no longer overfiltered and meaningless depictions of the world. Social media is getting real. And as it does, the value we each find in it is starting to shift. It is no longer only a place for diversion, but is also becoming a place for belonging. A place for emotions other than anger or pride. A place for legacy.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about how to use social media for marketing. Then I started spending time trying to break out of the hype and keep marketing from ruining it for everyone. Today I see it for what it is.

Social media is not a marketing platform.

It’s not a customer engagement tool. It also isn’t a soap box to declare your own greatness to the world. Instead, it has become an essential way of sharing the reality of what we each experience in our daily lives – whether life alteringly good or life shatteringly bad.

We can all finally share a bonding moment over this hard earned truth. Especially if it allows us to delight in our friend’s lives while also giving us the chance to be indignant or happy or sad about something that actually matters.

Like each other.

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#1 WSJ & USAToday Bestselling Author

Rohit is the author of 8 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

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