Earlier this week my wife came home carrying a bunch of fresh tulips she’d bought for 50p and my thoughts turned not to the wonder of spring and renewal, but to the prospect of a social media bubble.
It was the tulips that did it. In 17th Century Amsterdam, the buying and selling of tulip bulbs became a national frenzy as the price of bulbs went through the greenhouse roof until the market collapsed.
The story is described in the 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and cites one story where a sailor picked up a bulb and ate it thinking it was an onion. That particular ‘onion’ was supposedly worth more than the Dutch parliament and the sailor was jailed.
However, as nice as that would be, that story is probably false. Tulips are generally poisonous to eat, but the story illustrates how social mania created an economic bedlam around tulips that was swiftly followed by a less-frenetic craze around… hyacinths.
So are Facebook and Twitter the over-priced flowers of the 21st Century? Recent valuations of the former at $50 billion and the latter at $10 billion have led to some predicting a bursting of the aforesaid bubble as social mania takes hold.
Even JPMorgan this week announced a $1 billion VC fund for social media companies and there does seem to be a hurtling of lemmings running faster and faster. However, this seems less like social mania and more a social revolution that centres on human behaviour and not squares in Arabian cities.
Facebook and Twitter have changed us. Those who have been ahead of the curve and even those who are up with the curve behave differently. Instead of worrying about status, we fret about status updates and these networks are like our arteries, vital for existence and craving the needle of social media.
We have become a world of social smackheads and nothing is ever going to be the same again. Even a weekend away from all media is punctuated by a cheeky look at Twitter and while I hope I never do it, I can understand younger people updating their status while in the sack/on the job/shagging etc.
But don’t take my word for it, I have a habit of running pell-mell into anything new and exciting until I finally burst, so take the example of my good wife. Two years ago she mocked my use of Twitter, calling it a childish hobby, she thought it was stupid.
So when she came back this week with her 50p bunch of tulips, did she put them in water? No, she left them on the table and dove straight into Hootsuite and Tweeted about her evening. Enough said…