The Social Manifesto

Original post date December 6, 2010 
I’m on the plane returning from Munich, Germany, and I’m having a “Jerry McQuire” moment.  Today’s Financial Times has an article on Mark Zuckerberg entitled; ‘This is just the early stage.’ In the article, “Zuck,” as friends call him talks about the new technologies and enhancements Facebook will be rolling out soon.
One of which is Facebook Deals, which according to Zuck, will transform the way local businesses reach consumers as they walk down the street. I had to laugh when I read that, as I thought about my previous night’s experience at the Christmas Market in heart of old town (Altstadt) Munich.
German Christmas Market
For those of you who have never been to Germany in December, christmas markets start at the end of November and go through Christmas. The markets, that seem to occupy every square in town, are a mix of vendors selling everything from Gluhwein (a seasonal drink of warm wine) to Christmas ornaments of all types. But, what is must remarkable, is the experience that it creates.
The streets are filed with families, tourists, business people, and college students as they mix drinking, eating, socializing and shopping. I was in a packed square with fresh fallen snow, carolers atop of the Rathaus, with probably 5000 people jammed into a city block, surrounded by vendors and stores filled with shoppers. It’s as close to as you can get to seeing the North Pole and Santa’s workshop.
So, it struck me as funny that Zuck could think that he could change that experience with Facebook. Zuckerberg tells the reporter, David Gelles, that “Facebook’s unique map of human relationships will change business forever.”  To that I say, Facebook, and Zuck, you know nothing about human relationships, and, with the help of other new technologies, you are helping to destroy it.

You only need to watch a pack of teenage girls texting while at the mall, or a father on his blackberry at his child’s sporting event to see it. New technologies are enabling to us to be absent from the present…more so than ever. One thing I noticed last night was the revelers were not checking their phones or texting, they were in the moment, enjoying each other and soaking in the experience…except me.

I was busy sending texts and photos to my wife and my kids pretending that they were with me, when what I really wanted was to have them there or to hear their voices. It left me hollow, longing and lonely, the reason I’m having my Jerry McQuire moment.


New technologies are a double edged sword. They can enable good and bad, depending on how we used them. They promise greater “interactions” or “engagement” but that’s not to be confused with, or substituted for, relationships. They are not the same. And for business, don’t confuse your followers as loyal customers, because they are not. Most people are engaging for selfish reasons, they need or want something. What they don’t want, or need, is a relationship with a vendor who only wants to sell them something.

What it has done is enable us to be more self-centered and lazy. “But Scott,” you say, “how can that be? I’m busier than ever, new technologies are helping stay in touch.” Allow me to explain.

The phone eliminates the need to have to go see someone, email and text freed us having to place a call, and now you can simply tweet or post a comment and wait for someone to “Like” it, or leave a comment. No need to get involved, just do it and feedback will be sent to you. “Ah, 10 people like my comment…that makes me feel good.” Really?
Relationships take work and sometimes they can be painful, but they make us feel alive. They’re not easy, and you can’t automate them. Time is finite, and how we spend it, along with those experiences, helps define us. We can’t make more of it, or get it back. The more time we invest with technology means it is coming from something or someone, and it’s keeping us from something, or someone.
Perhaps what Facebook, and other technologies are doing is redefining how we think about ourselves. Technology allows us to express ourselves without having to invest a whole lot of time or emotion. We can go broad without having to go deep.
People now measure themselves by how many friends or followers they have. but what does that mean? To me it means that we are taking time away from family members or customers to interact with people who we don’t, or hardly, know. Why?  Because it’s easy, convenient, provides immediate gratification, and we can carry it around with us at all time…it’s a social security blanket.
The voice in our head saying; “just go online and see what people are posting on your wall, it’s happening now…you should check.”  It’s leading us down the wrong road. More time online means less time spent offline.  I went to Germany…and I almost missed being there.
Facebook now has over a half a billion users. It’s a runaway train.  It fills a need, but so does fast food. Plenty of people have told us that eating it is bad for us, but it’s convenient, cheap and the high salt content keeps us coming back for more. But just as fast food restaurants offer the 1000 calorie meal, they also offer healthy alternatives. It’s up to us to make the right decision.
Our Facebook pages may feed the ego and give us a sense of immediacy, but it won’t nourish the soul, or satisfy our desire for intimacy.  To borrow liberally from Jerry McQuire; ”Technology, you don’t complete me…and you never will.”