All things digital are inherently vulnerable to inflation.
Spam takes advantage of the limits of digital interaction to create scale from the (previously) unscalable, then profit from it. We normally apply this to email, but it could apply to Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube views. It could apply to pageviews to your website or anything else where scale can create money or reputation.
When there is no sacrifice, cost of “production” is near zero, which opens up new avenues of profit. This was the principle of Chris Anderson’s Free, but it’s also the principle by which spammers make money. Both take advantage of the ability of technology to bring the cost of scale dramatically downward, but we don’t talk about the other side of it.
Anyway, this same characteristic of digital technology is what allows people to have 1,000 Facebook friends. The upkeep cost of a friend is near zero, so I can have as many as I like due to reduction in friction. Since social network head in two directions, either more popular (towards ubiquity) or less popular (towards obliteration) every popular service experiences friend/follower hyperinflation which only the most popular can keep up with.
There are four things that I want to mention about this.
Scale divides the friend-poor from the friend-rich.
If you start off with a platform, or you start early, you can keep accelerating at the same rate the service does, keeping you in the top tier of users. But almost no one can do this. Inflation follows, where the number of connections accelerates exponentially while your own go up only marginally. This means you don’t have the same access you did yesterday, just the same way your dollar doesn’t go as far as it did yesterday, either.
To keep up, you must accelerate
You must find a way to keep your channel popular or risk irrelevance.
This may mean you need to take advantage of scale, leveraging existing advantages to keep yourself afloat when 100 friends yesterday has the same value as 200 today. It may also mean you need to gain access to larger platforms to give you more credibility or access to a larger audience. Basically, you only win by giving in to the “more” mindspace by reaching more people, or the same people more often.
The rise of “friend upkeep services”
As more and more people use social networks to upkeep their online presences, a need to upkeep these friendships will occur, and services will arise to fill that need. Facebook shows you your friends’ birthdays for this very reason, and that’s why sending a birthday note on Facebook is not a measure of closeness.
But Facebook and other companies will take it further, mentioning to you that you haven’t talked to someone in a while or maybe eventually suggesting things to say or sending automatic updates. In a sense this is one of the “services” foursquare offers users; same with Farmville etc.
The final measure of success is happiness
None of this matters, because none of it will make you happy. Only real friends will, and those require communal sacrifice to upkeep, and cannot be scaled.
At the end of the day, we’re still human. Our emotions can’t and won’t replace one great friend with 100 acquaintances; it’s simply impossible to create the same feeling, endorphins, etc. and will probably inevitably lead to depression of at least sub-par enjoyment of life.
My point with all of this is to understand that although all of these forces surround us at all times, and the speed of the world accelerating at a point no one can really keep up with, the things that make us strong, healthy, happy, and free are the same as they were two thousand years ago. And those are the things we should focus on.
The end. Make sense?