A year ago we wrote about engineer Jim Mielke’s design for a wireless cell phone that slides under your skin and is powered by blood. Since then social networks have continued to scale — Oprah joined Twitter, Twitter saved Iran, Facebook got the stream — yet as they continue to fail to make money, advertisers are starting to wonder what gives. Facebook, the No. 2 darling child of the media, has projected U.S. ad revenues in 2009 of about $230 million, which works out to less than half a penny per hour per user.
Advertisers can understand the challenge of social media if they play the game all the way forward. In a few years, wireless internet devices will be so small they will plug into your body, like Mielke’s prototype above. This isn’t science fiction. Humans are already cyborgs — you already know people with fake breasts, false teeth, glasses, contacts, laser eye surgery, hip and knee replacements. You drive a car, a mechanical extension of your legs, and you fly like a bird on vacation. Yesterday we had lunch with a fine man who had a valve in his heart mended and was back up walking within a week. There are now 4.1 billion mobile subscribers on the planet and their radio toys are getting smaller. Andersonian free-pricing logic says the cyborg conversion is inevitable.
Telepathy is coming. Really.
When human crutches turn into human connections, people will have incredible control over sharing content. Your eyes might record a scene; you’ll touch your earlobe to send the video to a friend. As data transmission moves back to pure human-to-human contacts, social media will revert to our native, pre-history connections. Advertisers face a barrier because in social media, human bonds do not require third-party sponsorships. There is no external content to sponsor. Data collectors, who now hope to turn Facebook’s social streams into the Experian of the future, also may hit a wall when human connections can no longer be intercepted.
All is not lost, of course. People have always craved outside entertainment. You can’t talk all the time, so we’ll watch TV for a while yet. And gadgets with shiny chrome or glass will be around for a while, meaning marketers can track data being sucked through the devices that fulfill our hunter-gatherer-sexual-status-signaling instincts. But the irony of these inevitable media shifts into human minds is they will take us back to where we were in 10,000 B.C.: outside TV, radio and print washing over us to fulfill the campfire entertainment role, and human-to-human social media in which we control the intercourse ourselves. Marketers, like storytellers from a clan far away, will be welcome in one place and not the other.