I don’t title this blog entry to literally compare social networking and reality television…we all know what they are.  I title this to compare the subtle differences between their explosive popularity, addiction induction capability, coolness factor, etc.

I don’t have any viewership/usage statistics (was trying to find some), but reality shows have been very popular — okay insanely popular — for years now.  I think it’s safe to say, at least as of today, people spend more of their leisurely time in front of their TV’s than in front of their computers.  And when people are watching TV, there’s a very good chance their watching a reality show.  Yes, I think that trend will shift to where people are spending more time in front of their computers.

For the people that “hang out” with their computers, I think many of them are likely gaming (the average age for gamers is much higher than you might expect), many of them are shopping, and many of them are just “surfing” for whatever they want.  I hate to say it, but I’m sure a fair number are looking at pornography as well, considering I heard it is an industry that brings in more than double Hollywood’s revenue.  But, social networking is really, REALLY popular.  And perhaps, more importantly, a few of the concepts are sure to only trend upwards exponentially since they are so addictive.  I think the addiction to social networking is similar to reality TV; people want to see, learn about, and “connect” with other real people.  And in social networking, everyone can be part of the show; everyone can have their own personal “place” on this massive beast we call the Internet.  So, what’s cooler in the end, watching the 0.01% of the population have their 15 minutes of fame or participating yourself?  I think social networking is here to stay — some say the bubble is bursting, will burst, or has already burst.  I think we will only find more and more people participating personally on the web, and I’d be surprised to find anyone who sincerely disagrees.  I do think, however, think that social networking will become even more personal and professional as more people become tech savvy, and pro blogging will become the norm rather than reserved for the more technically competent and/or serious — I’d like to see it take over social networking (since the tools that exist today have given themselves a connotation of fun and useless content).

By the way, I think the topic of ethics as it relates to these should get an honorable mention.  There is, and has been, much debate about ethics related to supporting television programming that profits from taking sincere people through emotional roller coasters.  (When I say “sincere”, that still includes those who intentionally join these shows just to give their film/acting/singing careers a boost.  In fact, I refused to watch the Bachelor for a while when it hit me how similar it was to the Zimbardo-like role-playing experiments (specifically, his famous Stanford prison experiment) which were considered unethical many years ago.  I could just see those 25 women getting wrapped up into the role they were expected to play for the bachelor.  Of course, with social networking, you have 1) the sick people that post crass content on the web, 2) the even sicker people that use social networks for stalking the people in category 1, and 3) the true “sickos” that use social networks to find people to commit crimes.  With the cult-like popularity of both of these, though, I think we really need to ask not “if”, but “how” exactly they are changing our society and they way we communicate with, feel about, and treat one another.