x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Trendspotting: Very Important Peers

Social networking with anyone at any time isn’t a new idea, but David Mattin discovers that the latest online trend is all about putting the ‘who’ in who you virtually know.

We human beings don’t change that much over time. That is, not fundamentally. There is a certain set of human needs, wants, desires and aspirations that we’ve always had and always will.

And yet, across the ages human behaviour can change dramatically when external change rubs up against those unchanging characteristics, and allows them to find new expression.

Our social lives are a great example. Of course, the impulse to connect with others has always been with us. But technological change, in this case the arrival of the social network, has allowed us to express that impulse in previously unimagined ways. Today we take for granted that we can stay in constant contact with friends and family wherever they are; the old problem of “losing touch” just doesn’t exist anymore. And we take it as given that we can connect with a host of new people, too.

But so far, a second ancient human instinct has remained neglected by social networking. Yes, I can find pretty much anyone among my peers on Facebook. But what if I don’t want just anyone? What if I want the smartest people, or the most beautiful, or the people who know the most about marine biology? How do I sort the elite from the others?

This problem is helping to shape the next wave of online socialising, as a host of networks aim to help us connect with Very Important Peers (VIPs).

Taste and sensibility are one of the axes along which this trend is playing out. For example, Airbnb is allowing millions to rent out their spare rooms to tourists; but what if my taste in accommodation is more refined than the average? A new social network, Architect’s House Exchange, allows colleagues in the architectural profession to room-swap just like Airbnb, but safe in the knowledge that the home they’ll be borrowing will benefit from the good taste of a fellow professional.

Or there’s Brilliant, a new social network exclusively for smart students; on Brilliant, the best students from across the world can come together to do what they do best: solve difficult problems in maths and science. Yes, that’s right, some people want to do more than just upload endless photos of their cat’s weird behaviour to Instagram.

Meanwhile, a social exclusive network called Ivy Connect is making headlines in the tech magazine Fast Company and elsewhere. Ivy Connect is aiming for 100,000 hand-selected members across 50 cities worldwide – and no more than 50. To win access to the exclusive club, potential members have to fill in an extensive questionnaire on job status, education and more. You don’t have to have attended an ivy-league college (or equivalent in your own country), but it would help.

The impulse to rank others around us according to perceived status or value is just as old as we are. For a few years, amid the democratic nature of the web, that impulse seemed to fade out of the social networking picture or, at least, it was not officially recognised. Facebook encouraged us to view all our peers through a single, status-flattening lens. Now, the age of the VIP is just about to begin. So, how important are you?

David Mattin is the lead strategist at www.trendwatching.com

artslife@thenational.ae