3 Ways Civilization Could Collapse Because of Social Media

This blog is the first in a week long experimental blog series. Enjoy. After all is said and done, we’ll let you know how it went.

Forget about social media and business for a minute. Forget ROI, branding, and reputation for a minute, because when it comes down to it, we (at least most of us) don’t use social networks for professional reasons exclusively: it is a part of how we carry out our relationships with others day-to-day. Social networking changes the way we communicate with each other as humans, and if you think about it, it also has the potential to just ruin civilization as a whole.


1 a: a relatively high level of cultural and technological development; specifically: the stage of cultural development at which writing and the keeping of written records is attained b: the culture characteristic of a particular time or place

2: the process of becoming civilized

3 a: refinement of thought, manners, or taste b: a situation of urban comfort”

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

1. Trending Topics Predict the Spiral Downward into Dark Ages v2.0

OK, cool. According to definition 1 a up there, we’re basically at the peak of civilization. Not only can we consider ourselves at a point of cultural and technological advancement, but written record wise, it’s all taken care of. Thanks to the web, to social networks, and to real-time results, everything we say is dutifully recorded and more often than not, completely inerasable. You post something online and chances are, not matter how you try to delete it, someone will be able to find it again. This is where it gets scary.

We have all this real-time knowledge available to us now due to Google’s real-time search results (whether we like them or not), Twitter Trending Topics, and Facebook feeds. And how do we use this mind-blowing tool? Shamefully. Right now, Justin Bieber’s birthday is trending higher than Chile on Twitter. Never mind that there was a 8.8 magnitude earthquake there this weekend – there are more Twitter users worldwide considered with this kid’s birthday. Yikes, world. Yikes. (By the way, here is a list of places you can donate if you are interested in being a part of Chile relief efforts).


one twitter user sees the danger here. . .

When our civilization as a whole has crumbled and fallen and ages from now these sorts of documents are discovered and translated by scientists, they probably won’t be surprised we didn’t last much longer.

2. FarmVille

Definition 3 a: refinement of thought, manners, or taste. 81,125,786 users a month are active on FarmVille as of February 21, 2010. If you’ve missed this online treasure, it’s a Facebook game where users must recruit their friends as ‘neighbors’ in the game to access particular plants/animals/barns/anything they might want to put on their farm. I couldn’t even see anything ‘important’ on my news feed (before blocking FarmVille) because my family’s dog that passed away 6 months ago was spamming the whole thing with all of his FarmVille ribbons and events. No, you read that right. Yes, it’s an account for my family’s dog, and yes, someone in my family is using his account to further themselves in this game. Maybe that’s bad taste. Maybe not. I’ll let you judge.

This is disturbing to me (Chewie was our dog).

This is disturbing to me (Chewie was our dog).

Either way, this whole demographic of FarmVille players is getting blamed for general internet shenanigans all-around. If you follow ReadWriteWeb regularly, you might have witnessed the creation of a meme caused by an SEO miracle. A RWW blog post had the words “Facebook” and “Login” in the title, and we all learned from the wild comments on that post that for some reason people search on Google for “Facebook login” instead of typing in the URL; furthermore, we learned that they don’t read what they click on, don’t read the headings of a page . . . they don’t read. They just don’t read. You need to see this for yourself. It could be enough to cause our great civilization to crash.

3. Tribes: Break Down to Build Up


In this ever-growing social web, it seems that the more ‘open’ the internet attempts to become, the more closed off we really are. Google’s social search results aim at giving you blogs and pictures from people in your network that you already trust and listen to; however, when we search, sometimes don’t we need an outside opinion. Of course that hasn’t been eliminated in any way, but the increasingly social nature of search and information gathering has actually taken us back to a different level of communication. According to Seth Godin, entrepreneur, blogger, and speaker at TED in 2009, we’re closing on the era of web mass marketing and are reviving a ‘human social unit’ – tribes.

Instead of sitting and listening to information and advertisements being told to us, we’re becoming a part of it and mobilizing groups of people nationally and internationally in ways that wouldn’t have been possible geographically without these networks. “It’s tribes – not money, not factories, that can change our world, that can change politics,” Godin said in his TED speech last year. “What we do for a living now,” he continued, “all of us I think, is find something worth changing and then assemble tribes that assemble tribes that spread the idea and spread the idea and it becomes something far bigger than ourselves – it becomes a movement.”

In this way we can see a definite possibility for a change in civilization. By grouping together as people with specific goals and interests, by using the wealth of information available, and the freedom with which we can communicate now, we can break away from ‘civilization’ as we have known it, or our ‘urban comfort,’ and create a new kind of community.

That is, after we attain the level of Farming Wizard in FarmVille.

  • Sara

    Of course ‘there are more Twitter users worldwide considered with this kid’s birthday”… most Twitter users are teenagers or young adults. Teenagers especially are going to be less concerned with a natural disaster since they have less of an emotional capacity or maturity to understand it. You have to take demographics into account with this or else what you’re saying doesn’t matter.

  • Sara, you’re right about the pre-teen maturity situation.

    However, you’d be surprised to find that Twitter specifically has a much higher average user age than other social networks. http://royal.pingdom.com/2010/02/16/study-ages-of-social-network-users/ Pingdom has created really cool charts showing this age distribution and teenagers are second to last in age groups using Twitter (besides people 65 and over).

  • Sara

    Interesting. Then I would question if those numbers came from just the users registered on Twitter. It could be possible that there are more 35-44 users registered but that the individuals who use Twitter the most are under 18 (which would make sense because those individuals have less responsibilities and more free time to spend on social networking sites). Just a thought. 🙂
    Another thing to point out as to perhaps why there wasn’t much of a reaction the earthquake in Chile was because of the earthquake in Haiti weeks before. Due to the nature of the human psyche, it takes downtime from one trauma for a person to be able to react the same way to another one, without the downtime there is just numbness and little response. So I don’t think it means we’re doomed, it’s just the way human minds & emotions work.