I recently came to this conclusion: as an interaction designer, if I’m not actively using social networks, then I’m just not doing my job. It’s obvious to say, but social media is the evolving, messy, inexorable and probably bright future of this business. Its all-comers approach to the creation of content and value is exactly in line with my philosophy for how design needs to change in order to matter in the coming decades. Still, that inevitability hasn’t stopped me from more or less ignoring these networks for too long.
To be sure, I have found some limited entertainment and satisfaction in social networks; Flickr is a good example. But frankly, I more often find them to be incredibly tedious. When it comes to a site like Facebook, whose proposition as an integral part of how we will all communicate, commiserate and transact in the near future is almost a sure thing, the time I spend on it seems more like homework than play. For many months, my position has been: email me and instant message me all you want, but please, whatever you do, don’t make me sign into Facebook. It’s just too much of a drag.
I admit that’s a bad attitude. Actually, it’s an irresponsible attitude for someone who purports to be a forward-looking designer. It’s a disservice to my colleagues and my employer, to begin with, as it basically amounts to sleeping on the job. But it’s also a terribly ineffective way to manage my own, long-term career development; ignoring social media in 2008 is not dissimilar to ignoring the emergence of the World Wide Web fifteen years ago. Those people got left behind, and the same thing could easily happen to me.
With good intentions, then, I’m now checking into my Facebook account regularly, earnestly trying to shunt aside that feeling that I’m doing nothing more than squandering away precious free hours. I’m still working through my backlog of friend invitations and messages; it’s not a burdensome task, really but it does feel like menial labor. And I’ve even returned to Twitter, which I tried fairly early on before taking a position that it’s basically ridiculous. Like I said, my intentions are good, but I won’t deny that my attitude has a ways to go yet. Keeping up with these networks is getting incrementally more entertaining, but it still very much feels like something I have to do, rather than something I want to do.
After a decade-plus of working in this business then, this is what it means to be an interaction designer: what was once effortless now takes effort. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I’m old, but neither am I young anymore. Suddenly the sky is starting to darken with increasingly ominous clouds of obsolesence. In my twenties, new ways of thinking and doing seemed very natural, and adjusting to the landscape was elementary business. Now, fending off stagnation has to be added to my job description. Learning new things takes work.