[Air-L] Musing on the Rise and fall of Social Networking - the CB radio example

Alex Randall Alex at islands.vi
Mon Dec 17 08:31:10 PST 2007

I just used the CMC issue as cannon fodder for my CMC class.
despite the snarky article, We are on a hot topic.

I reviewed the article that Barry Wellman raised ...
::"An Unmanageable Circle of Friends: Social-Network Sites Inundate Us with
::Connections, and that can be Alienating." Washington Post, August 26,
::2007, p. M10.

I am struck with a thought and wonder if anyone has examined this...

Will Social networking suddenly fall out of favor...?
Is it a fad that will soon clog up and be useless...

I had to ask if there is a parallel phenomena from the past that might shed 
light on the eventual demise of Facebook, MySpace and other social 
networking sites. And the clogging up of the channel reminded e of the rise 
and fall of CB radio

Back in the 1980's (aye, I am old enough to remember) there was a short 
lived enthusiasm for CB radio.
A set of converging events led to a burst of use and then as sudden a 

NB: This is pre-cell phones, pre-computers, pre-wireless era. There was a 
fuel crisis that jacked up the price of gasoline virtually overnight... 
meanwhile the FCC liberalized the process of getting a CB license, the units 
became less expensive and there was a surge of enthusiasm, the fuel 
shortages of that era contributed because as drivers worked collectively to 
avoid speed traps so they could beat the 55 MPH limits...

It started with truck drivers and the pop culture of truckers spread the 
phenom to non-truckers and pretty soon millions of ordinary drivers had 
installed CB radios.  In this pre-Cell Phone era, having a way to 
communicate from a car was perceived as useful and tens of thousands of the 
CB radios were installed each month for a few short years. A surge in pop 
culture around CB radio was entwined with the growth of its use... hit 
songs, hit movies with CB radio themes and many people memorized the "Ten's 
Code" with rhyming phrases cropping up in pop culture... "10-4 Back door" 
"What's Yer 10-20 good buddy"  Popular magazines carried stores and TV shows 
came into mainstream with CB themes. In short, a convergence of events led 
to a surge of use and enthusiasm for a communication tool that captured 
widespread enthusiasm.

The phenom sputtered just as quickly as it started.  Too many people all 
using the same channels clogged it up and in short order the utility of the 
CB radio diminished by dint of overuse. It was hard to get a clear channel, 
the upsurge of use meant many users were clumsy and did not follow the 
etiquette and the channels became unusable.  truckers switched to other 
radio forms and within a few years all the CB radios seemed to be gone. In 
the 90's they were garage sale items (though I admit I am nowhere near an 
Interstate and can't see if cars still carry CB antennas or if there is a 
cluster of ardent users still on the roads.)

There is a lesson here: "Too dense a population all using the same channel 
makes that channel unusable."
A Clog principle  I wonder if social networking will suffer from this kind 
of Clog phenomena.
Will is suddenly fade when too many people have too many friends to manage 

I wonder if Social Networking will parallel this course. Are we soon to find 
that so many people have so many friends that the lists are unmanageable? 
The density of use makes the whole channel clogged with chatter.  More and 
more flow with less and less content?

Related: "If everyone is bogging, who is left to read any of it? "


Alex Randall
Professor of Communication
University of the Virgin Islands.

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