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The Future of Social Media: Chose Your Fiction

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My sabbatical from blogging this year was quite busy (unfortunately, vacations from blogging usually result from too much activity, rather than a desire to “get away from it all”).   Specifically, I found myself at three different trials (ranging in subject matter from girl’s dolls to rivet cassettes).  It has been a hectic year, indeed, for IP and advertising attorneys.

But in addition to my normal activities as a lawyer (as though that were not enough!), I have spent my spare time over the past several years writing a novel.  All lawyers, as you may be aware, are required at some point in their career to write a novel.   Or at least threaten to write one.   To the relief of my family, mine is done (it is called The Secret Root, and trust me, you’ll be hearing all about it later on….)

But in any event, in the course of writing this novel I have been forced to act like a futurist, imagining what the world would be like 25 years from now, and then 25 years after that.  How would our interactions be sculpted by social media in the years to come.  Would Facebook (now with a $100 billion valuation) still be a player 25 years from now?  What about Google, or Twitter or any number of other significant brands that shape our world today?  How would we live our lives?

Recent books have tried to tackle this subject with a variety of different conclusions.  The acclaimed Super Sad True Love Story imagines a media saturated world where the lowest common denominator renders us helpless, pathetic wretches in thrall to pointless and worthless technology.  Neal Stephenson’s bestseller REAMDEsuggests that the videogames of today will morph into the new economy of tomorrow — that world-building for fun and world-building for profit are largely the same, and that as our ability to interact with electronic worlds improves we will begin to substitute our “real” life for a simulation.  Other works imagine transhumanism, dystopia and crime.

But while speculation is fun, it is also important.  The rules we set today will inevitably shape the technologies we get 20 years from now, and the attitudes we adopt will direct our actions.   It really will matter whether Protect IP and/or the Stop Online Piracy Act are passed into law — whether you support them or not.  It really will matter whether cybercrimecontinues to be a focus of law enforcement.  Will geolocation and couponing and rebates and environmental marketing all merge into some amorphous repository of your personally identifiable information?

Actually, my suspicion is exactly that — as advertising becomes more sophisticated, and consumer marketing is fed more data, more and more things will be free in exchange for data about you.  More and more marketing practices will be focused on customization and personalization, and more of that will be tied to your online persona.  While we have a few years before you live your life as an avatar, you only need look at how 12 year-0lds communicate today to realize that in-person interaction is diminishing rapidly as an attractive choice for the next generation.   As massive as Facebook may be today, the potential for synthetic currencies (the logical end-point for Facebook Credits and Linden Dollars, and other “payment systems” that are simply stalking horses for “real money”) and synthetic identities bodes well for the future of social media — even if it will also make it a far more slippery place.

When I look back at where technology was in the early 1990s, and how far it has come in the two short decades that have intervened, I cannot help but think that we are grossly underestimating how much we have changed, and how much we will change once again.  Like the hipster narrator of an LCD Soundsystem song, we were there when things began to change, but we will soon be left behind by “the kids” and things that we cannot even imagine today.