A few weeks ago a Colombian police squad arrested a couple of thugs who had robbed an Internet café. It took an unusually short time to locate the thieves thanks to the mind-boggling fact that prior to sticking up the cashier they forgot to log out of Facebook. I imagine the detectives had a good laugh, as they poked the unfortunate robbers, prior to to slamming on the hand-cuffs.
Around the same time, Facebook went public, and quickly became the laughing stock (excuse the pun) for those who were smart enough not to buy the inflated shares, and to ask the obvious question: “100 Billion what?”
If you ask me, these two stories share a common denominator, a sad moral that in these times of avarice and delusion, one should beware of social networks. They steal your peace of mind, by permanently reminding you that you are missing messages and notifications. They steal your privacy and force you to live in a permanent fear that everything you do online might be accidentally posted to your profile. They steal your real friends, who now wish you a Happy Birthday on your Wall, instead of calling you. They steal your time …. They steal your kids’ attention… the list could go on forever, but now, to top it all, from a coffee joint in a South American slum to the unattainable heights of finance, they steal your dreams that one day you too could be rich. One can no longer peacefully rob an Internet café or make a quick buck on the Wall Street hype, because these social networks are so virtual they have actually become real, and the only bubble left to burst is our dreams.
We are in the process of leaving the Eden 2.0 of the permanent digital bliss, where everyone is your friend and any social media startup will make billions , and returning to the hell of reality, where life is tough and there is no free lunch.
At an MIT gathering five years ago a rather accomplished serial entrepreneur told me: “ To pitch a new business to Silicon Valley investors today, you have to present it as a social network play”. Five years is just enough time for a baby start-up to go through growing pains and a few investment rounds, to fire and hire a few CEOs and get itself into a healthy shape for the much-awaited “exit”.
I imagine Silicon Valley is full today of wistful entrepreneurs and anxious VCs, who have spent the past five years building a variety of social media tools and connected apps in a blind belief that this will make them billions. Not unlike the dotcom days of late 90s, which were followed by the biggest tech bubble burst we have seen so far, these companies are built on the blind belief that attracting “eyeballs” equals making money. Now all their own eyeballs are good for is for watching the infamous share price slide down and down and down again on Bloomberg TV, as they sip their lattes in the cafes across San Francisco. Let’s just hope none of them gets a desperate idea to rob the joint, and if they do, let’s hope they log out of Facebook first.