Social Networking Sites Are A Medium Of Huge Change Essay
I have accounts on several social networking sites, and spend far too long on them writing my own updates and reading the updates of others. I enjoy doing so, being able to interact with friends, family, and random strangers online in a controlled environment. For someone who works at home, this is a big positive.
However, social networking sites aren’t a wholly positive influence on the world. In fact, if you delve just a little into how they have changed the world you find there are some potentially negative impacts social networking sites are having on society as a whole and each of us as individuals.
The idea of ‘friends‘ was once very simple. If you knew someone, hung out with them regularly, and liked their company then they were a friend. While the people who still fit that description are still your friends, so are the people you have connected with on social networking sites apparently. Whether you talk to them, care about what they’re up to, or have any interest in them whatsoever, they’re still listed as friends.
This has muddied the waters considerably. I know several people who have thousands of friends on social networking sites. Do they really? Or do they in fact have a dozen real friends and hundreds of people they have met once and then added to their Facebook or Google+? I suspect future generations will be unable to distinguish between meaningful relationships and casual acquaintances.
We all like to talk about ourselves or the things which interest us, which is the most basic reason social networking sites work. Those who shy away from doing so are unlikely to be on Facebook or Twitter, or if they are, their accounts will likely be sitting unloved and untouched. But there is passing on important news and telling anecdotes that will interest people, and then there is detailing every single aspect of your life, no matter how dull or uninteresting it may be.
Social networking sites bring out this side in many people, turning them into crashing bores who will detail what they ate for breakfast and the manner in which their body expelled it several hours later. Youngsters especially could become convinced that they are more important than anyone else, and that what they have to say should be read and responded to by a wider audience. There is also vaguebookingWhat Is The Imbecilic Art Of Vaguebooking?What Is The Imbecilic Art Of Vaguebooking?You may not have heard of the term Vaguebooking, but I can guarantee you will have seen at least one example of it in action. Certainly if you're active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or any...Read More, which is a crime in its own right.
Short Attention Spans
If you’re anything like me you will have noticed your attention span shortening in recent years. I can safely say that since the arrival of the Internet, and of social networking sites in particular, my mind flits between things at a faster rate than it once did. There is so much information to consume that we rarely spend any time exploring any of it in great depth.
All social networking sites add to this information overload to a certain extent but Twitter is the main culprit. People are condensing everything down to 140 characters or less, so when it comes time to actually read anything longer than that, it takes a change of pace and a change of mindset to do so. I suspect you’re even skim-reading this article. I’m not offended, we all do it, but it’s another way in which social networking sites have had a negative impact on society.
Causing Distraction & Harming Productivity
I work from home as a freelance writer. I love my job, but sometimes it’s hard to stay focused and on track. Especially when you work on the Web and cannot help but be surrounded by sites trying to seduce you into wasting time. Social networking sites are some of the worst offenders. Purely because they’re a constant stream of news and views from people who, for the most part, you want to listen to.
Then there are the games, such as Angry Birds, Facebook Scrabble, and Zynga Poker, which tempt you into playing for five minutes and end up consuming your whole afternoon. If you have a whole afternoon to spare then great, no harm done. But what about those working or studying? The distraction is harmful to productivity, and isn’t going to do society any good in the long term.
Breaking Up Relationships
Reconnecting with old friends from school may seem a nice idea, and in many ways it is. You have a lot to talk about, stories to tell, reminiscences to bond over. But you may reconnect with someone you once adored from afar. And now that you’re all grown-up you may get the urge to explore feelings that went unrequited 20 or 30 years ago. If you’re already in a relationship this could spell disaster.
It isn’t just old flames, either. People use social networking sites to hook up. Even if it’s a hook up of the extra-marital variety. I hate to think of the number of relationships and even marriages that have ended as a result of social networking. And when they do, where is the first place people share the news? On that same social networking site, of course.
Over-Sharing & Loss of Privacy
This is perhaps the biggest impact for the worse that social networking as a whole is having on society. The very concept of privacy seems to be inexorably eroding, and at a fantastic pace. Those of us who are connected to the Internet are connected 24/7, and we have immersed ourselves in an extension of society in which privacy is not treated with the high regard it is offline.
It isn’t just social networks that are to blame for this, but Facebook has led the way in showing how powerful a tool it can be in coercing people to happily give up personal information. Most of us list our full name and birthday, reveal who our family members are, share our work history, our hobbies and interests, and even what we like and dislike. And we’re doing so without any kind of prodding or pushing.
Most people would rightly refuse to walk around with a billboard attached to their front revealing all and sundry to the world. Yet we do just that on social networking sites. A dream for advertisers and marketers, but a nightmare for the rest of us.
Do you still think social networking sites are, at worst nothing to worry about, at best wholly positive influences on humanity? If so then I’ll be amazed, but I would love to hear your reasoning about these negative impacts of social networking sites. Will any of this make me delete my Facebook and Twitter accounts? Of course not, but it does make me a little more cautious about how (and how often) I use them.
Image Credits: Beck Tench, Marion Doss, Todd Dwyer, woodleywonderworks, underminingme, Cosmic Kitty, Sean MacEntee
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It’s hard to believe that, only a decade ago, social media was little more than a budding trend. Sure, there were websites such as Friendster and MySpace that had a decent level of adoption, but the population as a whole had not come around to it yet.
Back in 2005, Facebook was still in it’s early stages of its spread across the world. Heck, I was signed up for it back then, but didn’t really see the point until a few years later. Twitter appeared around that time, but a lot of us saw it as a pointless lifecasting toy. LinkedIn was essentially a digital resume and, for some of us, a pseudo-Rolodex. And Google+ didn’t even come on the scene until 2011, followed later by Pinterest and other platforms.
Fast forward to 2014, and social media has become not only a key part of the modern lifestyle, but a useful marketing channel for businesses of all sizes. Yesterday, a friend commented (on Facebook of course) that her elementary age kids were stunned to know that phones were only used for conversations a few years ago. They were dumbfounded to hear that we didn’t even carry phones with us 15-20 years ago.
This tells me that everything has officially and permanently changed. There is a generation of kids coming up (mine included) who can’t even conceive of a world without smart phones and social networking. It has officially embedded itself in our culture.
As someone who spends nearly every waking hour connected in some way, including both personal and business, this really hits home for me. Let’s look at ways that social media improves our life experience, and also a few ways that it uncovers a few of the more unsightly parts of humanity. Surely you’ll agree on at least some if not all of them.
Social Media: The Good
Before I cover the “Bad,” let’s start by appreciating the things social media has done to add to our lives. Here are some of the better things I’ve observed.
Immediate Access to Information
Given all the consolidation of media companies in the United States, it is pretty easy to question whether the news we get from the major media is the full story or not. After all, it’s not a rare occasion to hear more about the latest Kardashian scandal or celebrity death than a political uprising in Turkey or elsewhere in the world.
One of the things that attracted me personally to Twitter was the immediate access to other sources of information. Back when the government raided Osama Bin Laden’s fortress in Pakistan, there was a nearby citizen live tweeting his observations of the whole situation through the night. I was out at an event that evening, and learned of it pretty soon after news broke domestically, directly from my contacts on Twitter.
Social media is also very helpful for expanding our sources of content as a whole. With so much being blogged and written, then curated and shared proactively, the volume of content has grown exponentially. Now, there is no shortage of viewpoints and sources from which we can draw our own conclusions about what is really happening in the world. It’s less important to have a news team interpret it on our behalf.
Pervasive Connectivity To Others
I remember the days of phones with old style dials. We didn’t even have answering machines back then. If you called someone and they didn’t answer the phone, you had to call back and try to catch them in real time.
When a call came in, there was no caller ID. You just picked it up and said, “Hello.” It was sometimes hard to catch up to people, so you had to hand write and send a letter to communicate when you were both leading busy lives.
Today, if you can’t catch someone on the phone, you can leave a voice mail or send a text. Or even better, tweet, Facebook message, or touch base in some other means. You can see what others are doing within seconds of them doing it, assuming they share it on a social network of some sort. It’s not hard to catch up with someone if they want you to find them. Kids have no idea how convenient this is in our daily lives (privacy concerns aside).
Similar to the phone situation I just spelled out, it was extremely difficult to access a globally reaching platform where one could share their opinions or findings back a mere 25 years ago. I recall in the early 1990s where it was a huge deal to send in a letter to the editor to a local newspaper, and have them actually decide to include the letter in the paper.
Today, all we have to do is login to our platform of choice. We can rant, rave, kumbaya, tell jokes, share images, and generally mix and mingle to our heart’s content. For those of us who can write, it takes only a couple of minutes to create a new blog and start putting our thoughts into words. And those thoughts could grow legs of their own once the social sphere grabs hold of them.
It is far easier to do something remarkable and noticeable, and have it reach people across the planet, than it has been at any time in our history. We now have truly globalized voices. What a privilege!
Here’s one that originated on Twitter and eventually made its way out to the other social networks. Hashtags served a very important purpose on Twitter in the early days – you could create one tied to a specific trend, event, or topic, and filter out everything that didn’t relate to the hashtag.
This was great for allowing a completely unstructured app like Twitter to enable focused conversation. It’s amazing how people will find answers to problems or needs on their own, and make the most of a platform. This was the beauty of Twitter – it was powerful in that you could take its simplicity (140 characters of whatever you wanted to post) and tailor the experience to your own preferences.
Now, hashtags have grown into a phenomenon of their own. Some people use them for snark, others use them in the traditional way, and still others have been experimenting with completely new ways of applying hashtags. Since they operate almost like keywords for social media, they’ve truly become part of the culture of online discussions.
More Level Playing Field for Business
Some may argue this point, but by providing us with global reach for our voices, social networks enable businesses across the world to amplify their message in a way never thought possible only a decade or two ago.
In the old days, mass media ruled. A company had to pony up thousands or even millions of dollars to be heard in most cases. Very large companies with deep pockets ruled the roost. Only those businesses could afford to have wider reach.
Now, a small company can achieve global reach within days of launching their business when the cards fall right. Perhaps it’s via an ingenious video, by sharing opinions that resonate and haven’t been stated in the past, or creating new knowledge that spreads like wildfire. Maybe it’s by simply sharing the business concept and bigger voices latching onto it. In any case, social media has provided a means to have a voice on par with the big dogs for everyone, including the smallest startups or “Mom & Pop” businesses.
Social Media: The Bad
It would be short-sighted to only highlight the good from social media if I want to stay grounded in reality. Now here are som eof the things that make me want to close the browser window and move on.
I know, it’s been mocked and made fun of ad nauseum – the selfie. No matter whether it’s because of a shirtless guy flexing in front of a mirror, girls making abominable duck faces, or people with bad judgment taking selfies in front of natural disasters or sunbathing with their grandmother’s ashes, we’re stuck with them.
I get why so many selfies make their way out onto the social networks. Phones come with high res cameras now. Computers have webcams where it’s easy to take a snapshot. You don’t even need anyone present to catch a picture from the top of Mount “Amazing-est View in the World.”
But really, it’s not hard to ask some friendly passer-by to take a picture if you really want one. Everyone can see right through your humble brag about the cool places you’re visiting or the awesome people you are hanging out with. If you aim to post selfies, please, PLEASE take at least a moment to consider whether it will come across as narcissistic. In many cases, it will. And those are times to resist the urge. Especially if posting to a business page or Twitter account.
I have to admit; this one managed to suck me into it’s tractor beam during the most recent presidential election. I found myself engaged in many a “debate.” Looking back, that’s something I don’t plan to allow again.
When it comes to politics, religion, or any other very personal area of life, discussion gets contentious almost immediately. If you have a different belief system from someone else, you are both more likely to fight to defend it rather than cave to the other side of the argument. These are very delicate topics, and it’s too easy for the conversation to devolve into personal attacks and negative judgments of each others’ characters.
I avoid them now. It’s simply not worth losing a friend or colleague over what stacks up to be nothing more than a difference of opinion. Regardless of how those with the other opinion are depicted by the media. Social media is meant to be social, not a boxing rink. Everyone is happier when it stays that way.
Hiding Behind Anonymity
Although it is getting harder to shield your identity these days, anonymity has been a key piece of the internet since its early days. It’s amazing to see how people behave when their true identity is masked.
Now we have everything from outright trolls to habitual pranksters. This is the kind of behavior that makes the whole internet, and particularly social media, less productive and enjoyable for all. If you want to say something and are afraid to have anyone know you said it, perhaps you should buck up and use common sense before putting it out there. Being offensive anonymously is not only cowardly, it shows a lack of character. We should all be better than that.
All Talk, No Action
In recent years, we’ve seen a ton of hashtag activists and similar behaviors across social media (most recently, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge). It has become a trend to take a selfie (double whammy) holding a sign with a political or social message on it, and a new hashtag of course. Or take a video in the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The idea is to get likes and shares on the picture or video, or challenge others to take part, aiming to have a message spread.
While that’s fine in concept, hashtag activism is all talk. If an issue is important enough to take action, why not take real action? Facebook is crawling with people ready to go to social media war with anyone on a topic they care about, but what else are they doing to fix the problem? Venting on social media doesn’t fix a thing; it just stirs the pot.
There are plenty of charities and volunteer opportunities available. Rather than get spun up on Facebook, go give back on the weekend, or make a donation without taking part in a random stunt. Not only will it make a real difference, but it will make you feel better inside. And in the end, isn’t that part of the story anyway?
The ugly underbelly of ignorance is easy to ignore while you’re going about your everday life. But on Twitter, it’s all over the place. There have been many blog posts highlighting hateful, misinformed, or just plain confusing and delusional tweets at various times in the past.
It would be easy to laugh at this, but it’s also important to realize that this stuff is really going on out there. The world is not a perfect place, that’s a fact. If something is ignorant and it offends you, sharing it to express that outrage just amplifies the message further.
Like the adage goes: “Don’t feed the trolls.” The more attention you give to this behavior, the more the person spewing it feels compelled to continue the behavior. Let’s focus our attention on the positive sometimes, because the negative gets old and tired, doesn’t it?
I love social media. As with any communication medium, it comes with its ups and downs, pros and cons. Overall, I truly believe it makes the world a better place in many ways. It also gives a platform to some less savory behaviors and opinions. Each to his/her own, I suppose.
What about you? What else about social media has changed your life for the better? Did I miss any huge negatives that you see? Do you think the world is better or worse off with social networks?
Feature Image Sourced Under Creative Commons Attribution License from Deviant Art User ExFish.
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Posted in Social Media and tagged facebook, Google Plus, internet, linkedin, pinterest, Social Media, social networking, twitter
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