Email Is Out, Social Networking In

You know email has arrived when everyone you know has an email address.

But you also know when email has hit critical mass when your youngest generation turns to social networks instead.

One of the many benefits to working with the next generation is that you can get a preview as to how the music media industry is going to change. I know few people in the industry who even pay attention let alone understand. I'm not being critical here. They are just looking in the wrong direction.

I've had the opportunity at USC to see changes that appeared in the student body spread to the general population which is one of the reasons why I have been commuting from Scottsdale, AZ to LA every week since I sold Inside Radio to Clear Channel. I'd like to pass along my observations for whatever it may be worth.

One of the big things I've seen develop over the past few years is the rise of social networking.

I've seen it.

I've noted it.

I've written about it.

Still, the many, many implications for a new generation hooked on social network sites like Facebook and MySpace is mind boggling.

It all hit home for me when my daughter, a student at Arizona State, decided to forgo the use of her instant messaging service from AOL without any withdrawal symptoms or trauma of any kind.

How could she survive, I wondered.

Quite nicely she explained. Communicating on social networking sites is more interesting than even IMing each other. True, IMing continues, but I am going to make the argument that the tipping point has come and Facebook, MySpace and the others are going to become the logical extension of basic email.

I should have known earlier. See, you can be with this generation every day of the week and still not get it.

One of my classes insisted -- and I mean challenged me -- to start a Facebook page back in the day when only students and a handful of teachers could access it. Today everyone is welcome on Facebook.

I went to my daughter and asked for her help. Together I put up a primitive page just so I could go back to my class and say, "here, I did it".

So, I said "here, I did it" and they said, "where are your pictures?"

I said, "Now you want pictures?". Keep in mind this is almost two years ago.

Today much of the communication I get from students is via Facebook. They broadcast interests, events and talents to their group of friends (and they count their friends).

They "poke" the ones they may be interested in the way I would have walked up to a girl in one of my college classes and said, "hi, I'm Jerry". They don't have to rusk rejection in front of others. They simple hit a radio button that says "poke".

They go to the social networking sites to check out the people they meet and openly admit to me that they like to spy on each other -- especially ex's.

My students wanted to see their professor in casual clothes. They wanted to see what my son and daughter looked like. My wife. Where I live in Arizona and Los Angeles and anything else they can see.

They are not the only spies.

Businesses and future employers have learned to use social network sites to counter-spy on them. When a woman Facebook member says she prefers women she may mean she's a lesbeian and she may not (as quirky as that may seem to older people). They are playing with you. But sometimes employers take note -- especially when students brag about their drunken escapades (a college age condition you may be familiar with from your day).

Email has become passe with this group. Young people who tend to spend lots of time on social networks still use email to communicate with elders and for business purposes (i.e., summer jobs, internships).

I write a lot about the convergence of traditional and new media and ask my students to understand the sociology of our trends and our media habits.

Social networking is worth keeping an eye on if you have an interest in the media business.

MySpace is a popular way young people access new music. My talented performers even have their MySpace page pumping out what they hope will be their future hits.

Facebook has opened its architecture to outside companies that can help users do more things in their social networking circles.

There are problems -- to say the least.

MySpace doesn't speak directly to Facebook and vice versa. Perhaps this oversight will be worked out in the future, perhaps not. In the interim many young people join several social sites -- the more friends to make, keep and yes, collect.

In radio, there are still enough Gen Xers and Baby boomers to keep the industry a cash cow. But not a growth business. They can only mark time without the interest and participation of the new generation.

Those of you who read me regularly know that I have mourned the beginning of the end of radio, big trouble ahead for TV, the demise of the record labels and more.

It's odd to be writing about the decline of email as a main form of communication since it is so popular right now -- especially with older people. But that's what I'm observing.

Think of it like this.

What's the one thing that every teen and young adult has that you couldn't wrestle from their being?

A radio?

Are you kidding?

A newspaper?

Okay, I am kidding there.

An iPod?

No, not even an iPod.

What every young adult has and can't live without is a cell phone. And you may have helped them pay for this entitlement if you are a parent.

Cell phones.

My daughter said she can't imagine how I went to college without a cell phone.

Now imagine this.

Cell phones and social networking.

Apple just did. They invented the iPhone.

To remain viable, stay ahead of the next trend.

Social networking is the next trend.

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