Social, the next big thing after Google & sliced bread?

Although we pride ourselves in working at the forefront of User Experience in the South African digital context, at Origin we are also serious about exploring how the ever-changing technological landscape is affecting our habits, behaviour and lived experiences, and what role UX design may play in positively influencing these changes. As such, we will be addressing these concerns in what we hope proves to be a series of engaging and provoking posts. To get us started we have a guest-post by Tshepo Lehutjo. Tshepo, a former intern at Origin, is currently doing his MA Digital Arts in Interactive Media at the University of Witwatersrand, focusing his studies on the usability of Twitter apps on smartphones.

Just a few months ago, I ran into an academic article that was themed towards a study of identity and self-gratification, the link to which I have unsuccessfully tried to find (apologies – however, a search on social networks and narcissism brings up issues and conversations we should rather not get into). Without adding any of the sterile theory behind the article, the findings from this study were very surprising or rather appalling depending on your point of view.

A number of participants were equally divided into two groups, one group looked into the mirror for a given time while the other group browsed their Facebook social network. The results showed how the Facebook folk showed more self-satisfaction than those who looked at their reflection in the mirror.

Sure, man is a social animal, but really!? It seems social validation may be more important than we actually give credit for; who even cares what they think of themselves anymore? Does Lady Gaga care what she thinks of herself anymore? Do you?

If this were an Oprah-type show it would be a perfect moment for one of those clichéd sayings that go “what is the world coming to?” But no one is to blame, nor should we become anti-technology- this is the natural order of things, we humans have come from travelling seven days to get a message between two cities, to instant mobile messaging that takes less time than you can say “What are the names of the other Facebook founders anyway?” This is how we grow and perhaps why we are still on the planet.

Sure, we have seen the countless studies done on social, I’m quite likely speaking for myself here, but start up your favourite search engine, type in a few search terms on social network studies and voila! Back to the point, we have seen how the rise of smartphones and iPods has turned our public spaces into private spaces. You see, the jig is that when you are on social, the world is a village- but for those few that don’t participate- they have come to learn that maintaining someone’s attention without having them drift away on their small screen can be difficult.

Yes, that’s right, social technology has created a widely super-connected world that is quite adept at maintaining friendships and bonds online, but – and this is hard to argue with – it has simultaneously created a world that cares more about what to tweet about the current moment than it cares about the moment itself.

Again, this is no reason to become anti-tech, lest I loose my source of well-being- but I am not too worried about that happening, the boys at Googleplex and the Apple-kids in Sillicon Valley would definitely stop the world from rotating if that were to happen.

On the other hand, one should note that not all things that are good are entirely good, nor are things that are bad all bad – I think the remedy is that we should try to become more aware of ourselves and our technology (and yes, there actually is a lot of harm in neglecting the friend beside you to check who commented on your status update – your “friends” most likely!)

In all earnestness, do not suppress the instinct to be social – it’s a basic human need. But don’t miss the moment to be social in the “real world” either.

Tshepo Lehutjo

Future usability analyst x interaction designer