Several weeks ago, Josh Miller wrote a fascinating article about digital trends as seen through the eyes of his fifteen-year-old sister. Offering insight into the behavioral traits of a generation born into a digitally-interconnected world, Miller's findings unsurprisingly prompted a vast amount of commentary and discussion.
Funnily enough, the response was almost unilaterally dismissive. Although people certainly recognized the viability of Miller's testimony, there was a distinct undertone of incredulity and doubt. Miller and his peers framed the findings as though various properties like Instagram and Tumblr were being misused by young people — that these platforms were built for altogether different purposes and young people simply haven't yet grasped these fundamental truths.
The reason for this response is that technologists are largely unsociable and tend to fear change. We're an early-adopting, forward-thinking, and politically-versatile group, but when someone interferes with our data and our products and our use-cases, we grow disproportionately angry. We don't use Instagram to take photos of friends, nor do we use Snapchat to fill our spare time. We hate Twitter for pandering to a newer, larger audience of people and we find Facebook beguiling for its increasingly intrusive behavior.
Sitting on the front porch of our quaint weblogs and latte-art-filled Instagram accounts, we're collectively yelling at the kids playing in the street using these platforms in newer, happier, and increasingly care-free ways. These kids have been born into a world of social networking and privacy concerns are literally the last things on their minds. They're just looking for the next best way to chat, flirt, and sext their way into each other's bedrooms, whilst we continue to perpetuate unwritten societal rules of etiquette for Twitter and Facebook.
As we saw with the sudden rise of Snapchat, apps can exist and be popularized without the widespread attention of the tech community. We were abruptly hit with a wave of coverage of the sext-enabling app and each of us stood dumbstruck that such a colosal app could've slipped past us.
If I were a betting man, I'd wager heavily that this trend will only grow in strength. For as long as we hold onto our shredded tatters of privacy and dominance, we'll blind ourselves to the possibilities inherent within the digital infrastructure we've all helped create.
In a month or two, when Twitter truly begins to shutter its API support for apps like Tweetbot, the technology community irrationally believes that it'll bring about the death of the service. That is most certainly not what is going to happen.
Twitter is deprecating its support for an insignificant power user segment that has been impotently threatening to leave en masse for over a year. And it's doing so because there's an enormous population of people using Twitter for altogether different purposes than we care to consider or grace with our arrogant presence. It's looking to make money from a demographic of sociable, connected, and care-free users that are using Twitter for the sake of its features, not the way its app ecosystem works.
The ramifications for third party developers and power users are tragic, but Twitter is in the business of moving with the trends of the Internet-using public. And those trends are markedly different than those of the power user segment.
As a further wager — and this is a big one — the next big app in the social space will be Tinder.
It's a well-designed app built with the goal of enabling you to meet with people you're attracted to. You open the app, login with your Facebook account, set your sexual preference and distance parameters, and then you literally deem a seemingly endless river of people to be attractive or not. If you deem someone as being attractive and they do the same with you, then Tinder opens an instant message between you both.
The reason I wager Tinder will reach critical popularity is because of simple observation. Last Friday, I was out and about in Uptown, Dallas, Texas. Out of happenstance, it was the collegiate community's rush week at the local universities (including my alma mater), so the bars were packed with a mixture of returning fraternity and sorority students and recent graduates. As we all congregated on the patio, I watched as people looked to Tinder as a way to meet up with people who might be out and about in the immediate vicinity of the bars.
In other words, it was a cleaner, more spartan medium for drunkenly seeking potential sexual partners — the interactions shrouded with a comforting blanket of digital distance.
Quickly tapping through photographs of young men and women, everyone appeared hopelessly addicted to the service. And that includes people in well-established relationships.
When they weren't deep into a Tinder-tapping frenzy, people were taking photos of friends in VSCO Camera and then posting to Instagram. Others were Snapchatting friends at other bars with quick videos of how busy their respective locations were — intelligently gauging whether or not they should resign their hard-fought seat for a better bar up the road.
In other words, contrary to our boring scientific assessments of these services, there's clearly a vibrant community of people using them in innovative and fun new ways. Unlike what I can only presume is a curmudgeonly response brewing toward this assessment, I find these trends and shifts in the digital space to be endlessly exciting.
When Tinder inevitably reaches the mainstream consciousness in the coming weeks and months, the tech community will lambast the fledgling service as creepy, intrusive, and shallow. When Snapchat continues to gain users and Instagram becomes steadily overtaken with social scenes and #tbt hashtags, the technologist community will laugh condescendingly at the young, non-technical people.
And, in doing so, it'll show it's age.
It'll become clear that, although many of us in this community are the architects of the Internet as we know it today, we fundamentally do not understand what we've created. We've grown apart from this thriving entity, our value systems rooted in an age unfettered by digital interactions.
So, we'll continue to post thousands upon thousands of words about privacy and the deplorability of Facebook, whilst a younger generation, well-engrained into the fabric of an interconnected world, will continue to embrace brand new experiences befitting of the modern age in which we live.
Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, and apps like Tinder will glare at us through heavily-filtered photography and youthful messages, and we'll continue to yell about the deprecation of APIs and the simplification of OS X.
It's almost a shame, really. As an early-adopting herd of unbelievably intelligent people, we stifle our experiences out of a perceived ruleset of the digital world. Out of these societal norms we've created which are, in fact, utterly out of step with the society for which these tools and platforms are actually built.
From our ivory tower, we'll dismiss change, whilst, from beneath, a new generation will use these apps and services as they were meant to be used: to enhance their tangible lives. They'll find new ways to interact with people and to bring people closer together.
Although that's manifested itself as the so-called sexting craze we're all so familiar with, I suspect that's just one of the earliest and most raw stages we'll see. I cannot help but think we're on the cusp of an altogether different way in which people can interact, do business, meet people, and so on. In urban centers, smartphone saturation is unparalleled and human nature remains constant. There's bound to be a convergence between the two, and any attitude to the contrary is utterly steeped in antiquated philosophy.
At the moment, we in the technology community exist as a boring minority. We write about technologies and trends, but we stand in a sterilized environment at a complete disconnect from the reality of the changing world.
But this need not be the case.
We hold the tools to shape the digital world. Today, that means we hold the tools to shape the tangible world as well. We need not be sidelined into a boring segment of curmudgeonly onlookers — we have the capability to remain at the forefront of an exciting shift.
All we need to do is cast away these misperceived rules we've built for ourselves and feel free to just have a little fun with all that we've helped create.
So, don't be boring. Your users, readers, and peers most certainly aren't.