Why Social Networking ‘Utopia’ Isn’t Coming

As 2011 dawned, Facebook released a map that spoke to our era of social media in much the same way the first pictures of Earth from space spoke to the 1960s. The map showed the connections between the world’s Facebook friends — a number now approaching 700 million — as beams of light. Gossamer-thin threads linked every major city on the planet. The cities shone like stars.

No one has done this, but just think what that map would look like if you were to add Twitter users, whose numbers last month surpassed 300 million. A grand total of 1 billion accounts, and who knows how many billions of connections? (Facebook friends max out at 5,000, but there’s no limit to the number of people who can follow you on Twitter.) Then consider that all these threads connected in the last five years. And that at the rate of growth both services are enjoying, the connecting party is just getting started.

You might be forgiven for looking at this imaginary map and thinking some very 1960s-style thoughts — that we are forging some kind of global consciousness where everyone will end up friending and following everyone else, right? Not so fast, man. A study released this month shows that digital tribalism is alive and well in the social network era.

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