I love to start blog posts with a quirky cartoon, but given that the topic this week was social media, I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t overwhelmingly negative. We already know how I feel about the internet, technology, and those against it, so I won’t get into it now, but I do think it’s a little silly that so much of the ‘mature’ opinion seems to reflect the idea that social media is dumbing us all down.
I see social media mostly as a generational fad, like bell bottoms or disco or other fads that generations before me were obsessed with — like ruining the economy. Older members of Gen X want to use any excuse to shame ‘millennials’ for updating their social media accounts, but I am a firm believer that everyone should embrace social media, as it has proven to be a huge force behind shaping the current landscape of digital communication.
Whether we like it or not, social media is integrated in virtually every aspect of our lives. Even the simple aspect of dining out at a restaurant has become a social event with sites like Yelp or FourSquare. Social media is the new e-mail, in the sense that it has become so widespread that we look at people who aren’t on Twitter or Facebook the same way we might look at someone who doesn’t have an email address — as though they are completely insane.
Social media and Web 2.0 are such unique concepts because they focus primarily on user-generated content. While this is an undoubtedly ‘cool’ concept, it also creates a level of accountability among users that not everyone handles correctly. During class, we briefly touched upon how once a series of words reach the internet, they never really leave. Everyone has heard at least one story of someone who said something on social media they probably shouldn’t have and faced consequences at work, or school, or in their ‘real life’ because of it.
At the same time, this focus on user-generated content is mostly responsible for the multifunctional purpose social media now serves within our lives. Look at, for example, Amazon Reviews. Product reviews on Amazon are not technically a ‘social network,’ but, rather, they are user-generated responses that in turn generate surrounding attention. They serve a dual purpose: first, serious Amazon reviews are enjoyed by other Amazon users who value the opinions of their peers and take them into account when purchasing a new product, and second, the practice of writing joke Amazon product reviews has now become a widely popularized internet forum for humor, almost on the same level as Reddit.
This idea of how one platform can have all of these nuances was what I found most intriguing about this week’s presentations. Learning about platforms I’d never heard of before was interesting because when you study a new platform, you don’t only learn about how one user can interact with the platform. You also learn the way every user interacts with one another — the social part of social networking. In some instances, I find the community aspect each social networking platform holds to be the most interesting part about the whole platform. Take, for example, the Couchsurfing platform presented. Users receive no incentive for participating, yet they couch-surf and build their profiles and interact with one another and the platform continues to thrive despite the existence of safer competitive sites.
If nothing else, it’s always good to learn the ins and outs of a new social media platform. Whether we like it or not, social media is everywhere now, and it’s not going away. So I found the material from this week incredibly useful and engaging, and believe that what we discussed in class will have legitimate real-world application moving forward. As the semester progresses, I would love to take a more in-depth look at social networking sites and the many sub-communities that exist online. This week’s snapshots barely scratched the surface of the many, many groups that reside within the vast corners of the internet.