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The Horrible Future of Social (ted.io)
285 points by netherland 1816 days ago | hide | past | web | 149 comments | favorite

That which is shallow but useful can have its legitimate place in life, though it lacks character: a daily commute on the freeway might suck, and might not match the joy and invigoration of a brisk walk on a beautiful day, but it has its place if you need to get to work miles away and if your area lacks public transportation to get you there efficiently; living in the suburbs might suck compared to the excitement of an upscale urban environment but millions of people manage just fine with the tradeoffs that suburban living entails and get by just fine without the excitement; so too social networking sucks when compared to any one of countless ways of interacting that are intimate, personal, intellectually stimulating, or whatever, and for which the strictures of the social network have no room, but all sorts of people nonetheless get by very well interacting at the social networking level for the utilitarian goals for which they use such services, not caring one whit about intimacy or other elements that make the experience a fundamentally shallow one.

Social may be shallow but it has its place and, as long as we have freedom, you can use it or not according to taste. One can find fault with it but that does not mean it has a "horrible future." Criticism of this sort is thus misplaced, in my view, in spite of the limitations of the venue.

I think that the bigger problem is when people begin using "social networking" while they are actually doing the intimate, stimulating, exciting things in real life - either looking for validation or because its easier to bury your head in your phone than it is to participate in social interactions.

For example, checking Facebook while out at dinner with friends, or uploading photos of a party while you are at the party. What could possibly be happening on the internet that is more important than being out with friends?

Fair enough if you want to check facebook while you are waiting on a train killing time, but when you are actually doing the things you hope to be reading about on Facebook/Twitter/Intagram, something seems very wrong.

I was watching some video the other day where Jon Stewart made a random appearance. All the people around him had their phones out taking pictures of him instead of actually experiencing him being there. It was like proving to other people that they'd had an awesome experience was more important than actually having that experience. Or like they were going through life as tourists, making sure they checked every box and shared it all with other people to make them jealous. "Been within five feet of a major celebrity - check".

Isn't it kind of cynical to assume the reason they are taking a picture is because they want to brag about it to their friends? I have I'm guessing 10-20k pictures I've taken in the last 12 years. I've taking probably > 1k pictures with my phone this year. I've shared less than 2% of them.

I happen to enjoy looking back at all these photos. They bring back memories of various events in my life. IMO, memories I'd likely not think of without something (like a photo) to trigger the memory.

Take more pictures not less.

Also I don't see a problem with sharing. It's not a substitute for face to face time but it's connecting with people MORE not less. Go back 25 years and you could rarely connected with anyone unless you were with them. Now you can connect all the time by sharing your experiences. Some people do it brag, most do it to share and connect. At least in my experience.

I don't disagree that people are not doing it to brag but perhaps as someone else mentioned the memory that has been captured is now not as fulfilling or vivid or "memorable" as it should have been if the phone wasn't such a distraction.

Going back 25 years, I think you'll find that people rarely connected in as wide of a network but the circle of friends they did connect with was possibly on a much more fulfilling and deeper level and they got significantly more out of it than a shallow network of thousands of "friends".

I too feel that it's easier than ever to connect with friends on Facebook but somehow the convenience has also made the friendship feel more superficial. Whereas before I had to make an effort to write a birthday card or give someone a call, today, I simply click and write "have a great birthday". Engaging with Facebook has almost become like tending a farm in Farmville, I see alerts, I do routine actions that keep up the appearances of being "social" and that's it. It's sad that I think back now and I don't even remember how my friends sound because we interact in person and on the phone so much less.

> Also I don't see a problem with sharing. It's not a substitute for face to face time but it's connecting with people MORE not less. Go back 25 years and you could rarely connected with anyone unless you were with them. Now you can connect all the time by sharing your experiences. Some people do it brag, most do it to share and connect. At least in my experience.

The problem could be exactly that you don't see any problem.

"Connecting all the time" isn't a positive thing; just a few days ago there it's been posted the "Culture of distraction" article.

Also, why assuming that "sharing experiences" is positive? Assuming that "the Facebook way" is the standard in today's experience sharing, most of the "experiences" are banal almost-everyday happenings.

The problem is cultural and it's subtle, although I think it's way more complex than a dualistic living something vs. being and audience of it.

I think I can top that. I saw a photo in a newspaper a few years ago with the Dalai Lama walking through a crowd. People were reaching out to shake hands with him and he was shaking hands with one girl in the crowd who, rather than looking at him was looking at the screen of the phone she was using to take a photo of him shaking her hand.

This is especially annoying at live events like concerts when the person in front of you is holding up a smartphone to record the concert and they're watching it on the tiny screen instead of focusing on the person standing in front of them. I'm completely distracted by their recording and yet at the same time I feel immense pity for them.

The compulsion to be a tourist is ever-present in our lives. Social networks just move the reward of validation for tourism up to the near-instant. One of my favorite books has a significant character plot that explores the (sometimes ridiculous) role of being a tourist.

"Twoflower stared raptly at the display overhead. He probably had the best view of anyone on the Disc. Then a terrible thought occurred to him. 'Where's the picture box?' he asked urgently. 'What?' said Rincewind, eyes fixed on the sky. 'The picture box,' said Twoflower. 'I must get a picture of this!'" (Color of Magic, 1983)

I don't think this is new to cellphones / mobile culture. I've known plenty of people who would spend all their time at parties and social events taking endless pictures, then spend hours showing them to everyone they knew afterwards. Like they were more focused on getting proof that they were having fun and socializing than just enjoying themselves.

Your post reminded me of a CK Louis sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSSDeesUUsU

Well said.

I make use of social networks to stay in touch with old friends and extended family that I would have difficulty staying in touch with otherwise. This is indeed shallow in comparison with my relationship with my immediate family or current close friends, but I value this shallow connection along with the deeper connections in my life.

The gameification angle is a fad though. checking in and leaderboards for everyday bullshit will get old.

That's like saying gambling is a fad. The novel implementations may change but integrating markers for performance will only come more common in time. Expect to be able to passively track how long you brushed your teeth in the near future.

> Expect to be able to passively track how long you brushed your teeth in the near future.

I guess "passively" is the key. This sort of action-specific data capture has to be implemented in a way that you don't have to intervene to record and process it. The law of diminishing returns will cull anything of marginal utility if it can't carry its own weight (effort in > value out).

Arguably these features provide no value already though but only exist because on some level they are fueled by addiction. It always begins with very little effort and a shitton of perceived value. First time using a drug - little hit, big high. The first day in Farmville, WoW, etc all has this exactly the same. You gain multiple levels, achievements, etc. all in a few hours. This is fun you say. I don't need to do this, but if it's so easy, why wouldn't I? You begin doing it more and more. Just like physical drugs, you build up a tolerance. Those achievements that used to get you excited - don't anymore. 100g? Fuck that, you now want 100000g. You need that feeling of accomplishment but it's seldom found. For each higher tier you reach or better gear you find - there is always something better that is exponentially harder to get. Your addiction has changed your perception of what value is. What you once did recreationally for fun, is now an all day activity where you are mostly unhappy. People have been treated alongside drug addicts for game addiction. As we discover more compelling hooks - active gamification is only going to be more prevalent. The future of course is in passive metrics - sticking chips in things that don't normally have them.

Self timing toothbrushes are already a thing. I'm sure one that posts it to facebook can't be that far behind (pretty sure there's a market for that actually). I think the real money is in tracking how long people's children brush their teeth though.

You're thinking only about the end user - what I'm talking about is more encompassing than that. Toothbrush companies want metrics around their product. Users are going to soon be faced with a choice to either purchase a smart product that measures these metrics or buy the old cheaper one that doesn't. The way I expect mass adoption to occur is from the possibility of selling this data and passing off a percentage to the users. Your toothbrush will reward you for brushing your teeth not just with a nice sound or trivial leaderboard but by real world products, discounts, etc. If you always brush your teeth, you get notified that you can get your next toothbrush 40% off. The company will be able to do that because you gave them far more money with the data you provided them which they could sell to toothpaste companies, dentists, researchers, candy companies, etc There's a lot of parties who might be interested and this is hardly the best example.

I don't doubt that will be attempted, but it's ridiculous from every angle. If such things are remotely reasonable, then everyone with a product will be trying to do it. You'll be inundated with "real world products, discounts, etc" from everything you touch. You'll end up rejecting the entire system flat out just to escape.

This is the same reason location-based offers won't work either - because everyone will be trying to give you an offer, and they'll try to SEO-game the system so that categories and personalization don't work as filters.

It's cool that my calendar has reminders, right? But I have five devices that all remind me of the same event, all at once and I end up turning off reminders whole-hog because I'm tired of configuring every single scenario and every single device. Sync is great right up until I hate it more than anything and death would be sweet release.

That would probably be a good thing. Most people don't have good oral hygiene practices.

I see this every time I go to Disney World (I live nearby). It's almost impossible to enjoy a single ride or fireworks show without a ton of people videoing the whole thing or taking horrible pictures of it with a smart device of some sort. Rather than enjoying it and capturing some deep memory of a moment with their family, they have their face stuck in a digital device capturing a crude facsimile of the experience that they will likely never look at ever again.

I will never forget when a dad was trying to get a good shot of Cinderella Castle and totally missed out on their daughter meeting a princess (I think Tiana from Princess and the Frog was walking over to her character spot or something) for the first time. Hugely important moment for his daughter completely and utterly squandered in chasing this lifecasted copy of life. She was excitedly jumping up and down and waving to and got a big hug from the princess, and her dad was swatting her off at first, then completely ignoring her.

I've lived here (Orlando) for two years and it's only getting worse. I've almost given up on being able to ride Pirates of the Carribbean and being able to experience it the way the Imagineers wanted you to. The constant flash and glowing screens from people posting pictures of the Jack Sparrow animatronic on Facebook completely ruin it. Fireworks are an exercise in frustration as some joker always sticks his iPad in the air to try to capture a picture. When the first one looks terrible (as they all do), he tries over and over and over. By the time he's frustrated enough that he's not getting good pictures, the show is over and he's just missed the whole thing.

It's depressing to think how many other experiences people are cheapening and/or missing out on simply because they feel some weird compulsion to SHARE the experience with others rather than LIVE it.

There is the off-chance that the effort to capture these experiences leads a parent to get a picture of that child meeting her favorite princess or a snapshot of their son seeing a fireworks show at Disneyworld for the first time.

There's a difference between mindless capture and capture with a purpose. Some people do it terribly (I've been to a few really nice restaurants, and have had the experience nearly ruined by my friends' attempts to take snapshots of the admittedly beautiful meals), but that shouldn't dissuade the idea of wanting to capture an important cultural experience. Hell, I've never been to Disneyworld, and you'd bet your ass that I'd want a picture with Mickey.

I can't bring myself to take photos of my meals in restaurants, no matter how beautiful the food it. It just seems too impolite. And in a strange way, I feel bad about this.

I'm in complete agreement with both you and the author on this subject. In fact, I've been intentionally without a smartphone for close to 2 years now. I recently had a similar experience on a trip. I'll try to keep it short:

Recently I took a trip to San Francisco for the first time (and I'll admit I brought my deactivated Palm Pre along to take some vids). On my third day there I came upon a guy making a cool form of street art: he wrote his own quote-able thoughts on masking tape and stuck it on a piece of sidewalk. I'd say a quarter of a block was covered in this guy's thoughts.

I started taking pictures like a typical tourist, then I met the guy making the art. As I got to asking him about where he got his ideas and such, something occured to me: nobody else was even noticing this art. I asked him why and he said "oh, a lot of people are too absorbed in their phones to stop and enjoy what's around them." I promptly put my phone away, but he had already noticed it. To him I looked like a typical teenager obsessed with my phone. "So where are you from?" he asked. He knew I wasn't from around there just by the fact that I stopped to enjoy his art. It was a little depressing, and it reminded me why I gave up that amazing Palm Pre. But hey, at least I captured a few moments on camera I would have forgotten otherwise.

It's pretty easy to own a smartphone and not go around acting like a jerk who isn't aware of the surroundings. You can drive a car without talking on it. If the phone rings, beeps, or vibrates, you can even ignore it.

I suspect that for a lot of people, the temptation is just too strong so they would rather get rid of the thing than try to ignore, etc.

I'm doing this with Facebook. I know it sucks, I never get anything out of it but just the idea that something there is going on and I'm missing it, makes me want to login and check my timeline. It's stupid I know.. so instead of fighting myself I joined 1) the fact that I KNOW it sucks and I'm not getting anything from it and 2) that I can't be trusted to ignore life's stupid distractions.. so I deleted my account. I have not missed it any bit and I'm achieving my goal.

The bit about fireworks resonates especially: unless you've got good equipment and know how to use it, photos/videos of fireworks are almost always rubbish. The whole point is that they're huge, loud, dramatic and fleeting - none of which you can easily record.

I was at a dance club the other night. I saw a couple sitting in the corner. They didn't dance at all. They just sat there looking depressed. A little later I noticed they had their phones out and were taking photos of each other as though they were having a big time partying. Then they put their phones away and left.

This is the world we live in. A world where being seen enjoying something matters more than actually doing it. People's need for social validation is so strong it sometimes saddens me.

The positive point is that we (as in, hackers) are on the side of building things and solving (although sometimes artificial) problems, so we can at least make what we can to benefit from people's behavior.

Me: we have to get home before the hurricane.

My wife: hold on, I have to get a picture of WAWA.

Me: ... why?

My wife: I checked in!

Me: But why do you need a picture?

My wife: so the timeline looks good!

Me: ...

This is why I tell people that my (pretty large) Nikon D7000 is unobtrusive. Though it may be physically large, it doesn't get in the way of whatever I'm actually doing.

I can put it up to my face (it's already on, because I can leave it on for days), frame, focus, and take a picture in less time than most phones can even turn on. That and, just as important, it never lights up or beeps at all (except for the memory card write LED).

I think you accurately capture why Google Glass was invented, to help share your life without getting in the way of it.

Your parent also accurately captures why Google Glass is a solution to a self-inflicted problem.

I was going to throw a nod to this in my original post.

Although Google Glass in this case is using technology to solve a personal/social/cultural problem I do think it's one of the few times in recent memory to be an actually good solution.

I believe it gives the individuals such as myself and others who do value the living over the sharing a chance to get the best of both while giving those who value sharing over living a chance to enjoy the moment more.

At the same time, when do we hit our mental limits for absorbing information simultaneously? Yes there's the capacity to unobtrusively "share" and "capture," but you have to extend some mental energy to efficiently and usefully absorb this information.

I think there is a really significant editing problem - if you share everything, the unfiltered stream is way too much for yourself or anyone else to meaningfully consume at a later time, but if you are constantly picking and choosing what is and isn't worthy of sharing, then you lose the unobtrusiveness of the solution that your parent praised.

I think I may have said the same thing you said.

Your comment reminds me of the turning point in WALL-E when all the humans finally looked up from their computer screens to see the world :)

Coincidentally a few days ago I was just writing about how Imagineers pioneered UX design. And speaking of Google Glass, the Haunted Mansion at Disney World was updated last year with augmented reality effects so that the hitch hiking ghosts in the mirrors now interact with the visitors (like swapping their heads) -- http://www.wdwmagic.com/attractions/haunted-mansion/news/05a...

Have you been? How was it?

Very interesting points and I agree with you in spirit.

One thing that's a bit ironic though, is that the examples that you gave are themselves very much corporate, pre-packaged experiences.

Kind of hard to tell where the rabbit hole ends.

That's just a phase 'till lifecasting becomes commonplace.

To me its sad that "deep moments" have anything to do with Disneyland or any other manmade attraction, especially one designed to please Wall Street analysts and investors with an ever-increasing stream of profits, extracted from over-commercialized families seeking (corporate) entertainment. Maybe people should just plug into the Matrix for their deep moments and delicious steaks. Soon :)

> I've almost given up on being able to ride Pirates of the Carribbean and being able to experience it the way the Imagineers wanted you to.

I love the way you write, but even more, that you live in Orlando, riding the rides that way. (In Las Vegas, my kids and I used to ride Star Trek: The Experience every day, all day, for the whole 12 hours, for days on end...)

Meh. This is a touch over-the-top.

You know what Facebook is to me nowadays? It's another flavor of Gmail. Sometimes I send and receive messages there. It's plumbing. Sometimes I turn the spigot on for some updates, then turn it off and go about my day.

I think pro-social and anti-social pundits are both wrong about the upside and downside of social. Social is neither the next giant leap forward, nor is it the downfall of humanity. It's kinda like Gmail.

Agreed. In its current incarnation, social is merely a utility. Network effect inertia ~ Natural monopoly

I agree - I think users would simply not use it, as many choose to not actively engage in Facebook.

That is not to discount the age issue. Youngsters are conceivably less ready to think of the longer-term consequences of using such a "social network".

But still. Plumbing.

Except FB (well, plus mobile), has managed to change people's behaviors. Your flight is delayed, you are sitting at the airport lounge - and everyone is monkeying with his or her device. No more talking to strangers.

Gmail hasn't done that.

No, Gmail didn't do that - but people still avoided social interaction in those kinds of situations by reading magazines/newspapers/books or playing gameboy, etc.

Social is neither the next giant leap forward, nor is it the downfall of humanity. It's kinda like Gmail.

The printing press is neither the next giant leap forward, nor is it the downfall of humanity. It's kinda like hand-copied books.

Except the part where he uses gmail and facebook exactly the same way, with exactly the same amount of effort, and exactly the same amount of cost, and to exactly the same effect…

Just because you can play Mad-Libs with his sentence to make it seem silly, doesn't mean you are adding anything to the conversation. Social networking is a fun and interesting development, but putting it in the same category as the printing press makes me think you are either greatly undervaluing the printing press, greatly overvaluing social networking, or more likely, both.

I agree to an extent. I think if you look at the average user (generally not someone on HN), you'll see that it is cheapening their experiences. When preteens can quantify how popular they are based on the number of "likes" they get, it is bound to change "social" behavior.

Better way of looking at it is:

gmail is for person-to-person communication. facebook is more of a person-to-restricted-group communication. twitter is person-to-public communication.

Each one has its own positive and negative points. Whatever it is, it's not your life and don't treat it as such.

I agree completely. Social media is what you make of it. If you don't like it just unplug.

The author doth project their personal insecurities too much. If people want to form a social network around sex (and hell, there's already heaps, adult friend finder and clones, sex forums etc etc) then I think it's fantastic that the internet allows such varied forms of sexual expression and discourse.

Downvoted for A) Use of antiquated language solely for the sake of making yourself seem smarter. B) A needless insult to the author.

You're objecting to paraphrasing a quote from Shakespeare? I generally don't think people are trying to show off when they're referring to something that's in as many high school curriculums as Hamlet...

And it's a quote that provides a nice succinct way to convey a certain meaning, that I'm not sure I disagree with in this case.

I actually missed the Hamlet reference to be honest. Now it seems much less obnoxious. Thanks for clearing that up. My apologies to the parent for that portion of my comment.

Oh the irony.

Like rainnnnnn on your wedding day? Because there's no actual irony there.

It's time to pack in the comments defending the putative purity of the word "irony". I've seen numerous people get up in arms about some incorrect use of the term, followed by them giving the "correct" definition. I'm yet to see two "correct" definitions that match each other. How...

... ironic.

I'm completely okay with irony-ish things. But smugly calling something ironic when there actually isn't anything resembling irony there is just odd.

The irony is that you where unaware that you are doing the very thing you are accusing someone else of doing. te_chris assumed that the author was projecting his insecurities, you assumed that te_chris was trying to look clever. ...and then downvoted for it.

Fair enough. You could have said that in the first place, but whatever.

I think they are referring to your downvoted comment about downvoting.

I was insulted by the implication that I should be ashamed of sex or of talking about it, or that I'm supposed to consider this lofty magical think that has to be a big secret and people can't be open about.

I'm also guessing that I'm supposed to be 'repulsed' at the hypothetical software, that it might let two men talk to each other too, eh?

Ironically the solution to both are the same. People have different opinions, societies tend to have evolving, and shifting views about social networks or social behavior just like they have about sex in the past. Going around being all judgement of either set of behaviors is not productive.

I thought the sexual lead in to the main point of the article was rather silly myself, we don't disagree there. However, that's no reason to call the author insecure.

That's fine, whatever. I just find this the next in a long line of preachy, "Everyone does this; everyone must stop doing this." line of rational.

"You were repulsed by the above description of this imaginary site."

No really, no. Everything described already exists (except the sex-cred, and the geo-tagging is rather manual); simply not on the open internet.

Yeah, I was going to say, I know of at least one web site with lots of people on it where people do most of this. There is no explicit rating of people though, but there is certainly implicit: you see how many "likes" they get, how many followers, comments, etc. You know who's "good" at your kink and who's new, etc.

In this particular site, it's actually pretty well done. I think that they accomplish a great "this is a useful service for a portion of the population that areinterested in whips and chains" without crossing into "oh wow, this is totally creepy".

That said... I think that the author's overall point re: the desecration of meaningful things by turning them into cheap online experiences is totally valid. I am also depressed by the direction the world is going, and continually contemplating what I can do about it.

> "You were repulsed by the above description of this imaginary site."

He's giving the Internet more credit than it deserves.

Yeah. The attempted cold-read really killed the article for me, both because I didn't agree, and because frankly, having an article seemingly attempt a carny fortune-telling trick on me didn't make me want to read on!

I'm pretty sure the sex-cred and other stuff already exists as well. There are active user-driven communities for swingers and kinky people much as there are for every other specialist hobby/lifestyle.

There are online communities, but not the sort of gamification he referred to.

For me, commenting on the sex angle in the article misses the point. The author was kind enough to put the relevant text in bold, specifically 'cheapens the experience of something very important'.

I'd argue that this is already happening with something very important, our human friendships. Facebook and sites of its ilk encourage us to build shallow relationships with many and fool ourselves into thinking we're sharing something of merit.

I believe in personal responsibility, so I'm not saying Facebook, Twitter, etc... are forced upon people, we can choose to leave them alone if we see fit and plenty of people do just that. It's our job to fit technology around our own wants and needs, not be led by technology.

Anyway, interesting article, thank you to the author.

Facebook tries to monetize the difficulty of letting relationships go. I realize this, so I don't accept friend requests from former friends/acquaintances. You're only my friend on Facebook if we're actually friends. I have 15 Facebook friends, and I care about all of them.

As someone with hundreds of 'friends', I'm curious about how you use the site differently than me. How often do you log in? Do you participate every time you log in? Do you have a group chat with all your friends?

And how weird is it to have all the activity from your friends' posts elsewhere (comments/likes on public posts) in your news feed? It would seem like if your friends did it as much as my friends do, you'd see more strangers on facebook than friends.

I get on a few times a day for a few minutes at a time, but I'll stay on for 20-30 minutes if I'm having a good chat with someone. I've found that most of my friends prefer to text.

If I don't see anything new in my feed, I don't stick around.

I've noticed an interesting pattern among some people I encountered. Usually the ratio of activity on facebook (not just "sharing", but also instant messaging and status updates) is inversely proportional to their social activity in reality. Exceptions aside, it seems facebook always has been and always will be to large part a substitute for social activities/interactions in reality, which we would have liked to happen but couldn't make happen, whether it's because of social anxiety, shyness or geographical distances. people with richer social lifes need to cater to these needs less, whereas people with fewer real life social activities resort to facebook to get their fix.

It's especially problematic since Facebook's newsfeed algorithm seems to promote posts by exactly those who interact with me a lot on Facebook, which is correlated with living on Facebook a lot, which is (as you said) correlated with how much real life they have to talk about! Missing out on my acquaintances' big life events is one reason I've been experimenting with http://WikiSapien.com/

interesting project - is it yours (judging by your username)? and if so, how's it any different from facebook? do you put more intimate information on it and befriend less people?

It's different in that it's not a social network: I don't want friending, I don't want engagement, Facebook also does personal communication in a great way. I just want it to be a good source of basic information on who someone is; answer their question and get them on their way. Another difference is that (partially due to optimizing for engagement) elsewhere it is easy to find someone's most recent actions, but it's also easy to miss out on bigger long term things. I dont want it to be chronologically sorted in such an extreme way. As I say: find out who someone is, and not just what they had for lunch.

Most any article that says we're moving /toward/ some sort of new technology based sex solution is most likely missing many examples of it having happened well before the author even thought of the topic.

http://bedposted.com/ http://ijustmadelove.com

Lesson: Sex is probably smarter and faster than you. (I say this having run a site on sex and technology for near 8 years now. I now accept being constantly comfortably behind the curve.)

I think you missed the point. The author is not trying to make a point about sex, but rather uses that as an example of something he thinks is currently out of scope for social networking fads.

Yeah, realized I totally missed forest for trees with my comment, and I do agree with the general message of the article.

That said, it's easy to miss the forest when you're being whacked over the head with the trees.

And for a user-centric analysis of experience on ijml (versus the fevered rant of the original post), check out this alt.chi paper: http://altchi.org/login.php?action=showsubmission&id=117...;

I was more amused than repulsed by the description, and I thought quite a few people would probably end up using this product if it existed. To paraphrase George Costanza, if I were a different person, I could see myself using it.

What is truly horrifying about sex.ly is that it so utterly and absolutely cheapens the experience of something very important.

It doesn't cheapen anything. Making love is just for fun for most young people, and then most of them grow up to be pleasantly surprised to discover a depth to life that they were unaware of before. A product like this doesn't change the attitude people have towards sex in the first place. Of course some people never discover that same depth, or perhaps discover something else that others don't see. That's fine too.

The attitude of "I see depth to life that the morons [watching football/using social/smoking marijuana/insert activity here] don't see" is really the 21st century version of the inquisition. A lot less bloody, perhaps, but still very counterproductive to social (pun intended!) development.

Good points.

What is truly horrifying about sex.ly is that it so utterly and absolutely cheapens the experience of something very important.

Translation: I see other people doing something in a way that I don't like. This is wrong and their values are wrong. This makes me feel funny. They should not do as they do. Instead, they should do as I do. Then they will be right, like me.

It will truly be a brave new world when people are expected to not stand up for their own values.

“Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference which is an elegant name for ignorance.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Big difference between saying "I find that unpleasant and I prefer not to participate in it" and "that is a terrible thing and no one should participate in it". In the case of an activity which harms no one, I prefer to skew toward the former.

Standing up for your own values is fine and good. The part I was objecting to was the OP (1) making the assumption in his article in his article that everyone reading also shared his values and (2) suggesting that those values ought to apply for everyone, not just himself.

You were repulsed by the above description of this imaginary site. But not because of some prudish reasons, not even because it had to do with sex. No. You were repulsed because sex.ly violates something very deep and fundamental about humanity. But what, in particular?

Mind read much?

My feeling upon reading this was hardly the horror that the writer anticipated. Probably more of a "meh, it takes all kinds".

I can see this being a private, niche site for swingers or exhibitionists. Most people probably wouldn't go for it. But that doesn't make it wrong or horrible or the emblem of what is, in the author's mind, wrong with social media.

Reduction ad absurdum fail.

These websites already exist. Fetlife, Adult Friend Finder, Bedpost and others. That isn't even counting all of the sub-reddits dedicated to this in some way shape or form.

Honestly I wasn't repulsed, I was intrigued and interested in seeing how this social network sets itself apart from the rest of them. Not sure why the author tried to tell me that I was repulsed when I wasn't.

Good point. Yes, such sites do exist, and they serve a niche demographic of people who are interested in 'alt' sexuality. People who do their own thing and don't hurt anyone else

The aggressive moralizing in the OP biased me against any otherwise good message in his blog post.

I absolutely loved (and was repulsed by the reality of) this segment: "Our daily existence transformed into database entries in some NoSQL database on some spinning disk in some rack in suburban Virginia."

It's as true as how photographs stole the souls of 19th century Native Americans.

Imagine the horror when you find out all the worldly financial assets you've accrued over your entire life are just a few database entries dispersed over a few databases on some spinning disk in some rack in some datacenter somewhere?

Now if only they would have some disk corruption in my favour :P

This is pretty much Jaron Lanier's argument in You Are Not a Gadget (reviewed here: http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com/2010/02/review-you-are-no... ). They both have a point; systems which reduce human relations to very simpleminded database formalisms cheapen them.

But they ignore that the human spirit is (or so we should hope) strong enough to survive Facebook if it is strong enough to survive the other insults and depredations it has been subject to throughout history. Facebook may slap a reductive meaning onto the word "friend", but I haven't noticed that truly interfering with real friendship.

Jaron Lanier is a cynical charlatan. It takes a pretty negative worldview to say that the relationships people have on Facebook are the sum total of the nature of human relations, that the entire social phenomenon is a lowest-common denominator operation. The human spirit doesn't have to be strong enough, even without hope. "Facebook killing the human spirit" is an instance of a phenomenon that has never happened.

Well, I agree that he is about 80% wrong, but I don't think he's a charlatan -- I'm pretty sure he's sincere in his beliefs.

If he'd described a social gamification platform for serial killers or rapists, I'd be "disgusted".

Truth is that I had a girlfriend that was tracking her orgasms on a freaking leaderboard in 2004. I'm not sure I was shocked by it then.

Frankly, I don't mind people checking in on their phones in social situations so long as they are discreet and I'm not talking with them at the very moment. I can appreciate why others might feel differently, but I'm secretly relieved that I've been given implicit permission to check my email, too. You can pretend like that's a horrible way to live, but I do just fine socially.

I'm glad I'm addicted to email and not smoking cigarettes.

>You were repulsed by the above description of this imaginary site.

Thanks, I was not aware that I found that hypothetical sight repulsive. What I do find repulsive is the idea that I should repulsed by something which "utterly and absolutely cheapens the experience of something very important", When I am not the one who determined that the 'thing' in question is very important.

What you described in your imaginary site sounds like a product for people wishing to engage in casual sex. It provides a service to record previous partners, and presumably help find new ones. It also provides a service as a background check for partners by showing you reviews from others they were with, as well as "heads up"s. Planned support for Geotags, which seems good as sex tends to be a geographically bound activity (in-airplane geo-tags seem unnecessary though).

If I want to link the physical act of sex, which I do for physical pleasure, with the emotional experience of a strong, personal relationship, than I would probably not use a service designed around the premise that I would be having sex casually, with many partners. But why should I want to make that connection?

Funny. Because I specifically remember 3 instances where I walked by people (in two different countries in fact!) and saw them checking Grindr.

I think fetlife is the more-straight, more bdsm-focused Grindr.

If you sympathize with the author, you may enjoy reading _The Society of the Spectacle_ by Guy Debord, a classic criticism of society in the era of mass media. I think it would be very good if more people from around these parts read this.


It's a bold step to say that it's bad for people to cheapen their life experiences. While I personally agree with the author, other people choose to live their life in a way that is meaningful to them, in their own ways. Who am I to say their facebook, foursquare, twitter, etc. interactions are meaningless and without value? These are subjective measurements. The real question is: are people getting value out of these interactions because they are told to get value out of them, and if so, is it done disingenuously? Case in point, a gambling company (or certain gaming companies starting with the letter Z... I kid, I kid) tend to focus on the compulsive nature of humans in a predatory way. This is where true marketing responsibility comes into play: am I creating a system of measurably-destructive behavior in my users? You can measure the detrimental impact of a user's addition, you cannot measure the meaningfulness of a tweet to it's tweeter.

I think the right question to ask is whether the service is improving peoples lives or not. Social networks are useful and improves life in many ways, but their mission is to maximize sharing, user engagement to drive ad revenue, regardless of whether this is good for the users or not.

Here is a whole gamified dating concept video http://designtaxi.com/news/353161/The-Future-Of-Dating/

Such extrapolations rarely come to pass. Yes there might be new crazy services and some people will use them. But will a significant proportion of the population use them often? Will it change the world? Did foursquare? Did Twitter?

No. Some things just stay in their bubbles. There will be new crazed trends that come along and everyone will forget check ins, social networks, gamification and do them.

Reality shows used to be the new thing. So are there run a startup reality shows today? Bitcoins are a new currency. Will people start their own currencies and governments in 15 years? Instead of startups you start governments! Then 3D printers can make military drones and these governments fight each other!

Fortunately most trends just don't get very far. There is a constant stream of new trends to divert people's attention.

Hindsight is 20/20. Motorola invested millions in Iridium, thinking that the new cell phones were just a passing fad, but Nokia managed to flood the mobile market faster than Motorola could put up satellites. It's a case example of project execution failure.

That said, Sex.ly probably won't take off :)

I really don't need to know who's the local Mayor of Anal.

I didn't, yet now that you mentioned it, I'm kind of curious.

Heh. The author is completely wrong. Sex is not something important. It is a basic human bodily function, alongside eating and sleeping. For nearly the entirety of our evolution, sex was used primarily for bonding, its reproductive role is rare in comparison. It most certainly is a prudish view that sex should be hidden away out of some misguided belief that it makes it 'special'.

We could treat eating the same way. Never admit you eat, or if you do only speak of it in terms of immature titillation and euphemisms. When you do eat, never do it with anyone else, not even friends you consider very close, because that would somehow taint everything. There is at least one culture that adopted this exact view, their views on eating mirroring our with regards to sex. Eating with someone you are not married to was considered highly taboo, while having sex with various people for fun was understood as something so fundamentally human that restricting access to it would be impossible.

And ignoring whatever moral implications the culture you grew up in pounded into you as a child, just consider the basic biological matters. Abstinence is horrendously dangerous to health. Ever read a news story about how 'sex reduces the chance of heart attack by one half', 'frequent orgasms extend life', etc? Those stories are interpreting fact from a prudish perspective that limits sex severely. View the exact same facts from a perspective of frequent sex as part of basic human interaction and the headlines would read 'abstinence doubles the chance of heart attack', 'orgasm starvation cuts years off life', etc. There is good biological evidence that human beings evolved having sex after nearly every meal, along with sleeping in two blocks rather than one.

The real kicker is the origin and reason behind why we believe sex should be hidden and that it is somehow 'special'. That was invented in the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, no one in the lower class even had private bedrooms. Families slept, and screwed, in common rooms. They had to import views on sex from cultures with dowries, and children being viewed as the property of their fathers making sex a property crime against the father. And we preserve a remarkable amount of this framework even though we don't recall where it came from. None of their motivations exist any longer. We have effective birth control, and we have evidence for the suffering attempts to destroy sex cause. Eventually, hopefully, as a culture we'll grow up enough to ask ourselves what evidence we have that sex is somehow 'special' and what consequences such a view inflicts on people.

It's all a matter of perspective, e.g an accurate sexual behavior network would be of tremendous value to epidemiologists and public health practitioners, not to mention when people need to notify former partners about disease diagnoses.

The core argument here appears to be the "cheapening" of experience driven by "social", without any acknowledgement that social also enables new experiences. Sure, facebook has cheapened the value of remembering a friend's birthday, but it has also enabled more immediate involvement with friend's who you don't get to see that often (geography, parenting, loner-ism, etc).

"Social" changes all kinds of things. It's consequences are far-reaching, and we're just barely starting to figure them out. The advent of the automobile "cheapened" travel experiences, but also made travel accessible to the masses, not to mention a slew of modern conveniences. As a society we're still trying to find the right balance for how we use cars (greenhouse gases, near-surface pollution, exurban isolation, etc). People who write "cars are ruining society" essays don't actually contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. To be dismissive of all things social based on such a small sample of human experience feels short-sighted (and out of place in a technology-oriented discussion community).

Aside: The closing reference to Philip Larkin is amusing, as he was a racist and misogynist. He decried the "backward" steps post-WWII society was taking with regards civil rights.

"In the old world products were scarce - this meant that companies who provided product could profit from the demand. In the digital world, where abundance is key (creating a digital copy costs next to nothing) it is a customer's attention that has become scarce. This means that the customer now holds the value - not the company." - Chris Saad

Some people did see this commoditisation of human behavior coming back in 2005 and promoted the idea of the 'Attention Economy' which had a goal of putting people back in control of the content they create and view online with tools like the Attention Recorder from Attention Trust (now defunct, but you can read about it here http://p2pfoundation.net/Attention_Trust ).

The current idea of social is to capture much more than eyeballs and clicks of course, with checkins for places, Runkeeper and many other health apps for tracking/sharing activities, and so on... nearly everything we do is a potential data point for commercialization that a startup will want to capitalize on. This is fine if the user clearly understands the relationship.

I expect it was too early when the 'Attention Economy' ideas emerged but now perhaps we'll see projects that resurrect some of that early work and build on it to empower users of social tools to take control of both their attention and the data points they are sharing.

addl reading: http://p2pfoundation.net/Attention_Economy

Exaggeration to make a point. A worthy point, although one I'm not entirely in agreement with. I enjoy the "lifecasts" of others in some respects because otherwise I wouldn't know anything about what they're up to. I'm lucky if I can have a meaningful, real-world conversation with a single-digit handful of folks over the course of a week. Dozens? Hundreds? No way. But if I can see them post a joke or a beautiful photo or just a kvetch about a bad day, I have a connection with them that I simply wouldn't have otherwise. Yes, it can get absurd. Yes, sex check-ins might be in vogue at some point. But we don't have to throw the baby out because the bathwater has gotten quite murky. (P.S. That came out a bit too hard on the original author. I really enjoyed the read, thanks!)

This article is hugely exaggerated. Once all is said and done, you're simply attaching more relevant data to a photo which helps remember important moments. My grandparent's photo albums and scrapbooks have now been replaced by my TimeHops and SnapJoys.

Wow, While trying to see reactions to the word hate, I saw ALOT of whatever statements. o.0 Anyway, I didn't hate the idea. In fact, it seems kind of interesting. I really do believe his reaction is completely cultural. Sex is doesn't need to be kept a secret. And his reaction seems to be that. Privacy is rather outmoded concept, at least when you can find anything about anyone at at anytime. Given a month and some meager resources, you could find a lot about a person. Humans aren't random. We are completely traceable, to a point where anything we do is predictable on a scatter plot.

This reminds me of One of my favorite moments in the past couple of years is when I went to see Joanna Newsom in concert. Just before she sat down to perform, the host for the theatre said "now, I want you all to put your cameras down and your cell phones. Really enjoy the music. You can tell everyone how it was after the show. Seriously, this a real experience and you don't want to miss it taking pictures."

Everyone in the audience put away their phones/cameras almost immediately. The result? You could actually see people enjoying the music; not just bragging about being there.

I guess it's a nice thing about the internet that people can be disgusted by casual sex like the author and not realize there's a vibrant set of sites and people who are totally into it. He can have his own set of internet sites he visits, etc.. The various sex social networks are pretty damn useful if you want to help sort out who on the internet will actually meetup and who is just an online scammer, which are endless on less complex sites like craigslist, so they really have a powerful utility for people looking to get laid casually.

I must be in the minority for not thinking he was referring to Adult Friendfinder, Fetlife, or Grindr with this. I saw it more as Zyngafication. Pop-ups and badges and er, ahem, viral aspects and "achievements".

I think this Collegehumor sketch is relevant: http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6415974/foursquare-for-sex

He's right * 100. Some of us can't understand being "internet social" just to get us more fake friends with fake laughs.

Your grandpa didn't need to update his status every 10 minutes and he was the fucking man.

I find it funny when people protest about the way social sites cheapen life experiences. Somehow it is assumed that people have an innate need for privacy. Privacy is mostly social conditioning (have you seen kids playing?). Social sites bring forward that repressed part of the human nature because they give incentives, but the drive is always there. Its just human nature, revealed. People say that they are repulsed when the curtain is lifted but who says that that isn't social conditioning too?

"Somehow it is assumed that people have an innate need for privacy."

It makes me sad that someone with your attitude will probably end up an employee of a Social site, if you aren't already.

Nice ad hominem and public display of self righteousness, care to respond in a civil grown up and rational manner?

It is not an ad hominem to be disappointed that some still believe that the desire for control over one's own privacy is an entitlement, not a right.

I am not "uncivil, immature, and irrational" simply because your personal opinion differs from mine.

I think this short film neatly illustrates the cheapening of social experiences with too much tech: http://vimeo.com/49425975

Or you do what I do. Grow older, have a kid, and only login in to sporadically see the photos your wife posts of your child.

I've tuned it out. I suspect other people as they get older will too.

This article addresses a simple fact of life, where there is energy, people will try to create something there. Lots of people are making things for the internet.

"The horrible future of social" isn't bad. It means the internet is so great that we have all kinds of people making all kinds of things.

If it truly has no value, people won't use it.

This is the reason McDonald's exists, it isn't new or unique to social.

Notably, a lower-tech version of this social dynamic (particular the sexual version) appeared in a high school in California this year[1]. We think of these things as incredibly immature and disrespectful, but it appears that they happen anyway.


These stories are perennial in the media. They are inevitably exaggerated or outright fake. Remember, their sources are kids who are bored and want to be on TV.

Yep, like http://www.snopes.com/risque/school/bracelet.asp or "rainbow parties". Kids also enjoy pranking the media.

1) Isn't this grindr for straight people?

2) Coming from my first point, a much better article about the potential pitfalls of socializing parts of our inner lives (with real live examples) can be seen here:


It's not as negative, but there still is a hell of a lot to not look forward to.

I liken online social experience to that of looking a window.

A window has two main viewing states.

You can either look 'at' a window, or you can look 'through' a window.

huh? What the hell does this have to do with social networking?

Social networking is not the beginning of social. Experience is the beginning of social, social is just a way to share and solicit experiences.

So with this in mind, what are the different types of 'experience' going on in the window analogy.

Looking "through" the window is being in the moment, looking through the glass and seeing the world without the frame, taking experiences as they come and letting them exist inside of you as memories, allowing them to shape you and then letting that change in character effect others. Through is just living and being.

Looking "at" the window is seeing the glass, seeing the frame and putting all experience through a context. The context here is the social capital or the commodification of that experience for in order to enhance perception of self.

'At' is translating all experience into trade-able emotional commodity.

If you live in the 'at' state you live in a "what used to need to be seen, now needs to be shared to be believed."

Experiences become worthless unless A) you can prove that they happened, B) that you can show it to someone.

Just my thoughts

The Horrible Future of Blogging. I give you, the professional complainer...

relax mate. I don't think the majority of humanity is so dumb enough to be bought into the whole social hype, each time someone creates another "Facebook for ABC" online. Sure, it doesn't help when senseless media and VCs hype it up even more so, but most of us don't really buy into it. FB, Twitter etc should be just natural extensions to our real social life (plus a little bit more). Taking things too far as you did on your blog assumes that we'll just buy ourselves into these crap.

I often think the same thing about cheaply available photography. What was tourism like before cameras? Whatever he's talking about has already happened.

I generally recommend watching "black mirror" - a funny 3 episode satirical tv thing which is about this very topic. it's worth people's time

This app actually already exists in the app store.

Might not have the same specs but close, http://www.guyskeepscore.com/

There will always be those who proclaim outrage and lament change.

Change always causes loss, but we often gain more. Naysayers may help us keep track of what is lost, but best to ignore them otherwise.

Because of agriculture, we don't know how to hunt and gather. Because of home theaters we don't go to the movies. Because of air flights we are separated from our families and miss much of what we fly over.

Indeed. The sky is falling.

Way to go, I am sure some crass go getter is staking this concept out as we speak.

the closing comments are much like Dylan Moran's rant about cameras (warning, typical foul language):

  Would you please - stop - taking - pictures - on your 
  tiny - annoying (whispering) fucking camera. This is 
  happening to you in real time, you are having the 
  experience. It's not much point to verify that you 
  were at the event when you're actually here.
(quote taken from http://funnycomedianquotes.com/funny-dylan-moran-jokes-and-q... but I can't seem to link directly to it.)

The quote as I remember it live was slightly different, something about not living your life because you were too busy filming it for youtube.

Sounded pretty cool.

Just one gripe. He forgot the 'like' button.

I thought this was called adultfriendfinder?

I'm so going to build sex.ly!

This is ~6 years too late.

Sex.ly for YC '13!

"No. What is truly horrifying about sex.ly is that it so utterly and absolutely cheapens the experience of something very important."

I would say: it "logical-ize" it - in the computing meaning of the "term". And here come the question: is it good? Maybe no because the logic of such an app is a cheap one but maybe yes because it becomes more logical in the sense of rational.

"What is so attractive with this logic is that.. it is logic" - Triumph of the Nerds

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