Personal is the New Social

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held last week in Las Vegas, is both a birthplace and a graveyard for technology. Some devices will “make it” and even change our lives, while others will never get to market. If T.S. Eliot were alive today and a tech nerd, he would have called January the cruelest month.

The big story of CES wasn’t tablets, or phones, or 3D, or the fact that not one of the 150,000 attendees seemed unduly distracted by the Adult Entertainment Expo at the nearby Sands Hotel (there were a few exceptions, but I promised to keep the names confidential.) For me, the real headline was a shift away from social “communal” interactions and toward socialized personal experiences.

In other words, while many new devices enable sharing with friends if desired, the true purpose is immersion, not connection — access to content, not conversation. Internet TVs, tablet computers and movie theater sound in mobile phones all serve to take us deeper into our own worlds rather than open us to connecting with each other. “Personal” has become the new “social.”

We see this also with the trend toward curation and aggregation of news, personalized feeds and niche networks within networks. People no longer want to be part of the entire universe, just the parts that matter to them.

To be clear, while sharing and social actions are woven into today’s tech DNA, sharing in itself is not “connecting.” That last step is up to the individual (of course), yet that becomes more difficult when the individual is wearing 3D glasses or otherwise sucked into solitary activities.

We still connect, but more and more those connections are with systems and content, not with people. And in the case of brands, getting people to connect with products and services is still more important that getting to know the people themselves. It’s 20th Century marketing with 21st Century technology.

Technology is the heart of social media and conversation is the soul — but are we at risk of losing some of that soul as we immerse into richer digital worlds? Cruel, indeed.

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