In the past, Craigslist killers and Match.com horror stories often led the public to view social networking sites with one eyebrow raised. Now the stink is finally lifting.
We get it–any platform that provides the opportunity to pose as someone other than yourself will attract a certain number of dubious characters.
Now, however, social networking sites have begun to leverage the power of people with nothing–or at least nothing felonious–to hide. In other words, it’s now okay to tell your grandmother that you met your new boyfriend online or to tell your boss that you’re joining some online friends for a social dinner. This element of our culture and reality has changed. Online networking is the “new normal.”
Our ironic society has no problem understanding how living in a big city can be a lonely existence, and sites like Meetup, Grubwithus and Grouper now thrive in metropolises because even independent city folk want things like friends and significant others (go figure). These sites encourage users to meet not only in virtual reality but in real life–the part of life that requires one to get a hair cut and feed the dog. In fact, real-life interests like these provide perfect starting points for bringing people together.
None of us like to think our interests make us weird or crazy, so when we discover others who are passionate about pugs, samurai swords, Portuguese wine or vintage European hats, we tend to see something of ourselves in them. We see someone we could be friends with–or perhaps even date and (gasp!) marry.
We have little doubt that a growing number of brands and companies will soon find ways to mine this paradigm for profits. As social networking sites continue to grow in popularity and users growing more comfortable dealing with other human beings online (and trusting their profiles to be at least somewhat accurate), isolation will no longer be a symptom of poor fortune; it will be a choice.
If only being human–both online and in real life–were that simple.