Silicon Insider: Looking Back a Year, and Beyond

Meanwhile, with Rush Limbaugh podcasting and Howard Stern going to satellite radio, local radio as we know it faces its own oblivion. Local content -- talk, sports, traffic, news -- will survive for a while; but, as with newspapers, once the audience drops below a certain threshold advertisers will walk away, and even the local stuff will find a new distribution channel (automotive Internet, podcasting, cellular).

And there is much more to come after that -- trade magazines, traditional book publishing (though not books yet), and network television, among others. Each, when it goes, will take a sophisticated culture and a vast history with it. And each will leave an ache among those who remember and, at most, a mild curiosity among those who don't.

Social Networks Paving the Path

But technology also giveth even as it taketh away. The great thing about entrepreneurs is they have a sixth sense for voids -- even emotional ones -- and rush to find a way to fill them.

Thus, even as we suffer through the dislocation of watching one great cultural institution after another vanish, with the creeping sense of isolation and anomie we feel at the sight of all of this change, new digital institutions are already arising to replace them. And none is more important than social networks.

Social networking is less a process than an emotion. It fills the growing need of people to connect in a world with fewer and fewer traditional modes of connection. That's why, even though they are as yet relatively undefined (for example, they have no established revenue model) they are taking off like wildfire, and showing up almost everywhere.

Almost every young entrepreneur I know is developing a company built upon some sort of social network. Monday I was down in Hollywood visiting Jeff Skoll, eBay's first CEO, who is now celebrated as the producer of this year's hottest, most socially engaged movies ("Syriana," "North Country," "Good Night and Good Luck"). He talked about building social networks of activists around movie Web sites.

But to appreciate the sheer power of social networks you need look no further than MySpace, which has grown faster than any institution in memory. Tens of millions of kids (including my oldest) now visit MySpace every day, swapping photos, making connections and building a very sophisticated subculture (when my son wants to represent somebody as an "emo" he pretends to hold a digital camera at arm's length and turns his head away in profile -- the classic emo pose for a MySpace picture).

MySpace and Skype, not newspapers and telephones, will be the institutions these kids will one day look back upon with nostalgia. And they will chuckle in remembrance of terms like "MySpace Whore," which is a person with more than 400 friends on the site, as we do rotary dials and phone numbers with letters in them.

So, even as my heart wants to call 2006 the year of pandemic cyber-sickness and the widespread death of institutions, my head tells me that it will really be the year of social networks.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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