Technology & Social Media

Can we survive without social media?

Fire I was getting ready for bed the other night when I noticed that our air conditioner wasn't working.

The fan was running, but it was blowing nothing but warm air. The AC was set at 70, but the thermostat read 80. Something was definitely wrong -- and on the warmest night of the summer, too. The heat index had approached 110 earlier in the day, and the nighttime temperature was still hovering around 90.

"Crap," I thought. "Why does this stuff always happen to me?"

Then another thought hit me: The number of things we've convinced ourselves that we can't live without is staggering -- and almost embarrassing.

Take Twitter, for example. The hugely popular social networking site was brought to its knees on Aug. 6 following a denial-of-service attack that took place overseas. For three whole hours (and sporadically over the next few days), Twitter users were shut out of the site. They could neither post nor read new updates, and to hear them speak afterward, you would've thought the world had ended.

"You know how you pat your pockets for your cell phone and your keys? Well, it's that same kind of phantom (limb) with Twitter," Twitter junkie Christina Cimino told CNN. "It's like, 'I can't update! I can't update!' It's just one of those bugs that gets in you. ... I was pretty upset, actually. It feels like a lifeline for me. Pretty much everyone knows almost every detail of my life by what I'm doing on Twitter."

My first thought upon reading that was, "Get a flippin' life."

Now, I love Twitter as much as the next person -- more, probably, judging from how often I'm on the site. It is, hands down, the most powerful networking tool I've ever come across.

But let's keep some perspective. Until now, I have firmly believed that social media tools are meant to enhance, not replace the ways in which we communicate and collaborate with our audiences. On those infrequent occasions when they aren't working properly, a shrug and a check-back-later strategy are all you need, really.

In other words, it's not the end of the world. Take a deep breath, relax and wait for the cavalry. And if you have to interact in the interim, pick up a phone or send an e-mail.

But my second thought was this: If we live in a world where people feel "naked" by a three-hour Twitter outage, then we really are seeing a fundamental shift in the ways in which we connect. Maybe this is much more than simple enhancement. Our social strategies are changing before our very eyes, and they will continue to evolve rapidly. Maybe the panic over the Twitter attack is proof of that.

This might just be the incident we need to spur constructive conversations about where all of this is heading. Let's hope so, anyway.

For what it's worth, when our air conditioning died, we turned on a couple of fans ... and we survived quite nicely, thank you.

But we still cheered when the air was fixed two days later.

What do you think? Are we too dependent on new technologies?


Bill Sheridan