I’ve been thinking about virtual space for a while – not only because it is the strange, necessary and contested space of digital marketing – but because of the disappointing manner in which some of the more gargantuan online entities have shifted and melded to become everything other than what they set out to be and what they describe themselves as.
The early years of this new millennium were all about contesting and trying to forge ahead in the virtual world – whether in what we now call social networking, or search engines or file sharing (mainly music). There was no monopoly and there was an intrinsic understanding that things would last only as long as they were desired – or, should I say, as long as they satisfied the needs of online consumers. Search engines grew, then fell away – Netscape Navigator, Ask Jeeves. Myspace and Bebo offered new online experiences and then they too slowly atrophied into non-existence.
So where are we now, nearly two decades later? Well, I would say we are at the mercy of entities that have taken on an almost Death Star like ominousness, that are nothing other than obscene cash generating monopolies. One in particular is seemingly so engrained in everyday life that it is easily manipulated and exploited to influence the fundamentals of western democracy – how and who we vote for.
In the beginning, Facebook was a cutesy social media platform. Users could post what they were feeling and thinking and their friends network was generally that – a group of people that they knew. Over time that social aspect is there in name only and Facebook has become one of the largest generators of advertising revenue in the world. Its function is to make money and to do that through hosting advertising of any kind – until recently – without any oversight of the types of messages being promoted.
Facebook has become one of the main drivers of the polarities that plague us to such a degree that hatred and discord dominate in virtual space. When Facebook bought out Instagram they turned that platform into a further battleground of political opinion. What was once a rather pleasant way to see images morphed instead into endless threads of comments denigrating and bullying the opinions of others.
The one saving grace is that the younger generations avoid it like the plague and choose safer and more asinine platforms to connect virtually. It is more than likely that Facebook has far outlived its use and its welcome and I can only hope that it will go the way of other social networking sites and slide slowly into obscurity.
The other platform that has monopolised virtual space for well over a decade is Google – a site so incredibly massive that its own name has become the verb to describe what used to be its function. Instead of ‘searching online’ we ‘Google’. But instead of being delivered timely and accurate results we are advertised at and sold to – to such a degree that Google is not truly a search engine anymore but an obese accumulator of over $US100 billion in advertising dollars a year.
Again, I can only dream that Google will implode into itself when consumers turn away or are given more satisfying and palpable online search platform options.
Let’s not forget the term that drove all of this and allowed the connection between human beings and the portals we purchase to tap into the virtual universe – the information superhighway. The essential word in that is information and I would argue that the integrity of that has been replaced by the sure and steady beat of questionable and objectionable commerce.