19.  A Brief History of Social Media

19. A Brief History of Social Media

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A Brief History of Social Media

As Researched by Steven Carki, UNI Class of ’56

Dated 24 November 2054

Sometimes it’s difficult to think back to the days of our grandparents, where social media was no more than a handwritten list of friends you could call on the telephone.  Now online social networks have been a part of our every day lives for nearly fifty years.  Clubhouse, the latest, greatest player in the game, just celebrated its twentieth birthday this past year.

Of course, social media didn’t always look the way it does today.  While myself and many of my peers were raised on Virtual Reality, our parents were raised in the era of screens, with VR no more than a new fad, a technology they knew had potential, but did not yet know to what end.

Thus, for my final presentation in Modern Anthropology, I would like to discuss the history of social media in the world.  Ideally, I would like to leave behind a transcript so that others may look back and remember where all this came from.

The first major surge in social media took place in the early ‘00s.  The first notable social media giant was a company called MySpace, which debuted in 2003 and remained the largest social networking site in the world until 2009.  Its replacement, Facebook, was founded one year later in 2004 and took the market by storm for the next couple decades.  Other giants include Twitter, founded 2006, and Instagram in 2010.

For the 2010s, these companies would rule the social media market, especially after the advent of the smart phone in 2007.  As the smartphone became more and more commonplace, social media apps became the go-to time-wasters on everybody’s glass devices, each with their own niche.  Facebook, much like Clubhouse today, provided a central hub for all friends, where you could like different pages, post status updates, keep photo albums, and make your own clubs and events.  Twitter’s interface prompted users to share short blurbs that their followers could scroll through.  Instagram was similar to Twitter, but for pictures only (Hartford, 2045).

As the ‘20s approached, however, the fall of the social media giants appeared imminent to those who kept their eyes open.  The influx of participants from the older generation on these applications signified the beginning of the decline.  What once appealed to the younger generations was adopted by their grandparents, seriously cutting down the cool factor of the software.  Though this trend was noticeable far earlier, the median age range of each company had grown to 46-52 by 2025 (Skaroff 2034).

In addition to the influx of older generations, privacy scandals started to plague the giants from the 2010s well into the ‘20s.  What started as companies selling user information for ad revenue evolved into much more suspect behavior, with rumors accusing the companies of everything from colluding to form a national registry to selling information to hackers under the table.

Regardless of who the information was sold to, the increasingly sophisticated methods each company used to pry into their users’ lives made their followers increasingly uncomfortable.  The result for social media companies was an immediate drop in reputation and a steady decline in market share as long-time users looked for more trustworthy alternative social media outlets.

Unfortunately for users, it was extremely difficult for any competing social media network to attain critical mass in the smartphone application market.  Even amidst the controversy, social media companies continued to innovate and improve their services at a rate that no others could keep up with.  Even with new features added to keep users on board, however, the companies continued to undermine their trustworthiness as they proceeded to sell their users’ information in creative new ways that inevitably made it above ground in due time.

Toward the end of the ‘20s, things were looking dire for the giants.  With the continued growth of virtual reality, everyone could feel a sea change coming.  To prepare for the new age, in 2027 each company decided, allegedly independently, to change their name, building what was later known as “The ’27 Club”.  One after one, each tried to become known as something new—“F,” “Birdie,” and “QuickPic”.

Suffice to say, the rebranding tactic left much to be desired.  Not only were users not fooled by the new branding, the new names were notably lamer than their predecessors.  Add to this the aging demographic of the giants’ user bases, and the companies seemed destined for irrelevance.

The companies held on for about four more years until each of them finally went bankrupt in the “Social Crash of ’31”.  It took a decade longer than many thought it should have, but people were finally done with the social media giants for good.  The disappearance of the giants left a huge hole in the social media market, which many new companies tried to fill.  The general populace, however, had apparently decided they were done, and refused to adopt any of the new players in the web-based social media market.  Technology users returned to a world of group and personal messages, forgoing the need to broadcast their lives for a time.

This period after the Social Crash of ’31 was known as “The Great Purification”.  Though the period of absolute social media abstinence lasted only three years, this time was generally viewed favorably by those who lived through it.  A generation was perceiving the world and relationships in a whole new way.  Like someone newly sober, there was an element of latent wonder in this new view, and many asked themselves why they didn’t get off the services sooner.

Even though many enjoyed their new perspective on the wagon, all it took was a new innovator for the great majority of consumers to fall off.  In 2034, nine years after the Lucid Mask redefined Virtual Reality into a major consumer market, a new social media craze was born out of a dorm room on New Idaho University’s campus.

The new mastermind was Nathan Habernick, a prodigious English Major in his junior year.  As he put it in a 2035 interview:

“I was always captivated by the worlds that authors and filmmakers would create.  I wanted to do the same.  For a while, I was just writing and writing, but that didn’t feel like quite enough.  And I didn’t necessarily have a huge interest in gaining mastery over some other medium.  I just wanted to make my own world and live in it.  So I was getting high with my friends one day—come on, it’s 2035 and you’re gonna look at me like I can’t say that?—I was stoned, alright, and I was wondering why there wasn’t yet any easy way to create your own environment in virtual reality.  And the applications that were out there just weren’t pushing it far enough.  I wanted to make my own world, and I wanted my friends to be able to hang out in it.  The market was ripe for a change.  So, anyway, that’s how the idea of Clubhouse was born.” (Habernick 2035)

Clubhouse was the disrupter that should have taken down the social media market, had the world not already been in the middle of The Great Purification.  Though it began humbly, Clubhouse scaled quickly, allowing users greater and greater freedom to build their own virtual space that their friends could enjoy with them.

Clubhouse eventually began to integrate all the features that the other social media giants had done before them.  Users could personalize their own “Bulletin Board” for view by anyone specified in their privacy settings.  “Walkie-Talkie” was added soon after launch as the native chat feature in the application.  Users could even host Virtual gatherings in each of their Clubhouses.

It wasn’t until 2037 that Clubhouse hit the mainstream with its AR integration, implemented into the second generation of Lucid Lenses.  Though the VR app was still popular, the AR implementation was much more useful day-to-day, leading to a surge in popularity similar to the one Facebook experienced when it expanded from desktop to mobile.

In addition to finding a comfortable home in the VR and AR market, Clubhouse made sure to avoid the downfall of its predecessors by brainstorming alternative streams of income to the sale of user data.  From the application’s launch, Habernick made sure to emphasize the importance they placed on the privacy of their users.  Instead of selling users’ information, Habernick set Clubhouse up with an eCommerce platform that allowed users to sell their own data, goods, and services.  By taking a small cut from each interaction, Clubhouse was able to sustain comfortable profits.  Though Clubhouse ads didn't start off quite as sophisticated as the social media companies of yesteryear, the surprisingly large amount of users that voluntarily sold their data allowed ad companies to attain approximately the same level of insight into their possible customer base, eventually netting Clubhouse notable ad revenue in addition to what they were gaining from eCommerce.

In 2054, at the time of this writing, Clubhouse remains the most profitable social media company on the market today.  Though it has grown over the years, its primary principles have remained the same, which has led to a user loyalty that was never present in the old, dead giants.

After proving there was a place for social media in the new era, it didn’t take long for other companies to follow in Clubhouse’s footsteps.  Many of these companies built their base on the new functionality allowed by AR technology.  For instance, Infrariend, est. 2024, when activated, allowed users to spot consenting Clubhouse friends from miles away through what resembled an infrared headset.  This technology came in handy for many AR games of the 21st century.

Another successful (though slightly more unnerving) company was Foot-Steps, founded in 2045.  Foot-Steps allows VR and AR users to sync up with their friends’ AR glasses, literally giving users the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes.  Oddly enough, even after the privacy scares of the ‘20s, consumers seemed to be willing once more to risk their privacy for the chance to try new technology.  Though there is no conclusive evidence that Foot-Steps is or isn’t spying on their users, it would appear that the trustworthy precedent set by Clubhouse has lulled users into a false sense of security when trying new applications.

As of 2054, no social media application has approached the current success of Clubhouse.  In fact, the social media market has remained relatively stagnant for the last decade or so.  The reputation of Clubhouse is certainly in better shape after 20 years than the giants’ had been.  For Clubhouse’s reign to be displaced in the future, it may be necessary for a disrupter in the tech market as a whole.  Just as AR replaced mobile, whatever the next step for mass human communication is will likely be the spot to see major competitors.

Until then, Clubhouse holds a proud monopoly over social media, and few seem to mind.  Habernick, in fact, has been guest teaching around a class a semester at UNI for the past five years or so.  If you ever happen to run into him on campus, you can feel proud that a fellow Okapi has changed the world.  We can only hope that the next disrupter comes from the same magical place.

Works Cited

Habernick, Nathan.  Personal Interview.  20 Feb 2035.

Hartford, Melanie.  A Generation of Socialites.  San Francisco, New History Press, 2045.

Husk, Rajit.  Hanging at the Clubhouse.  New Idaho, New Idaho UP, 2053.

Skaroff, Nicholas.  “Understanding the Social Crash.”  Journal of Social Media, vol. 12, no. 1, 2034, pp. 13-16.

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