The Internet has always led the way for innovation – for its openness and democratic indifference to authority. When the world was busy passing memos from one desk to another, the Internet gave us email. When telephone lines were crossing the Atlantic, the Internet gave us VOIP calls. Today when we are finally getting used to calling, meeting, messaging virtually on the Internet…. we’ve gone social.
The social connection has opened channels of communication across geographies, time zones and the hierarchies that separate us from each other. People from diplomatically rival countries today ‘Like’ a page about their favorite Pug or beer or even ‘vanilla ice cream’. These are the social objects that bind us together like no other.
But even if the page for ‘Pugs’ on Facebook has ‘176,962’ likes and we all know someone who knows it, those 176,962 liked Pugs even before Facebook or Orkut or MySpace or even before the entire Internet.
Social Objects have bound humans together for a million years today. They determine who we are socially and whom we interact with. They are embedded into our instincts, our DNA and trigger our involuntary response on mention of the object. A book lover like me will excitedly talk with a stranger holding my favorite book or any other book by my favorite author.
When we are on a date, the first thing we see is how do we connect with the person. Is it something that we share, a social object, a social glue that is common between us. For the most part, water cooler conversation revolves around the same topics. Imagine, 4-5 random people gather together and have some insight over a common topic at the same time, isn’t that a dream for conferences? Random strangers we meet on the bus, on the train or at our favorite club connect with us because they are stranger to us, but because of the social objects, they are somewhere similar to us.
Today Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch post-impressionist painter, is valued around $146.5 million today, but in his lifetime Van Gogh could barely give it away. Not because the painting changed to something different over the period of time, but because the great artist never met someone who shared his own social object. The painting gained value over the course of time because it connected to more people than the artist could ever reach in his lifetime.
Social objects were with us since the beginning of time. Didn’t we find cave paintings during the stone age with similar topics and colors?
At the turn of the millennium, we stepped into the information age. If social objects were there since millennium what did social networks do? They amplified the objects. They increased the radius of our scope. In our 80-90 years of lifespan finding a stranger in 7 billion people across 93,210,000,000 miles who shares our interest is a herculean task.
Social networks took away that geographical and time limitation which prevents us from meeting everyone on the planet. It can bring together 176,962 people who like Pugs on the same page and let them connect with each other. It can turn a stranger into a friend at the click of a button in the comfort of our own house.
Earlier finding someone who shared our interest would be a matter of luck, now it is a matter of efficient search. A single ‘like’ can open doors to a opportunity of endless possibility.
Facebook never set out to bring these people together, they just made a tool to enable sharing , somewhere down the line these strangers became friends because they share something with us more than our friends…. our social interest.