Saga of Social Media

While social media experts and enthusiasts around the world are celebrating the immense possibilities that the computer technologies have offered, it is worthwhile to look into trends and criticisms of the social media itself

The newest revolution in the way news and information are spread has been brought about by computer technologies. Internet technologies provide audience (previously mostly passive recipients of information that media delivered to them) a set of tools that they can use to select, consume and share report events, produce and distribute opinions; and influence priority and production of news that traditional media deliver them in an unprecedented way.

The same set of tools also enables individuals to widen the spectrum of social lives – by creating or joining in communities which may also choose to act on various scales. The tools also provide business institutions and organizations newest methods to expand their activities – whether in the domain of public relation and research or marketing, sales and advertising.

That set of tools is social media. By today’s definition, social media is a set of various web services that can be interrelated for social interaction “using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques.” Those web services are based on Web 2.0 referring to user’s capacity to create, publish and share contents which are accessible in various platforms – basically webs and mobiles.

Social networking (for example, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hi5), microblogging (Twitter) photo-sharing (Flickr, Picasa Web), video-sharing (YouTube) and weblogs are taken as some units of social media. The core technology that brought about the change in communication, social and business paradigm is the higher interactiveness amongst the services of the World Wide Web. Interactiveness refers to an individual’s power to comment on, share, like or dislike any content thus forcing producers to set their priorities according to audience choice. An individual today can use the web services to do things that a few years ago could have been an ambitious dream. Interactiveness within the web services puts individuals, as a part of a group, on the top – rendering those powers equivalent to the powers of professionals and organizations.

In Here Comes Everybody (2008), Clay Shirky writes that technologies enable a person to “escape the usual limitations of private life and to avail himself of capabilities previously reserved for professionals.” This does not only apply on media, but on almost all professions. This means that social media will be indispensable part of man’s social, professional and personal lives in future.

COMMUNICATION AS KEY

The evolution of man from animal to highly intelligent social being is a result of his constant desire to communicate more with other. The invention of languages led to sharing of emotions, which then led to the need to form communities, and civilizations. Communication has always remained a key for development of mankind and the society.

Social media is all about communication – a key that opened the door to immense possibilities that the technology could empower the mankind with. Social media provides technologies and tools enabling individuals to communicate with each other, organizations or groups, enabling them to express and discuss opinions, share emotions and to inform and be informed.

The possibility of greater level of communication is certain to impact and bring change on communities. To cite Shirky again: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”

SOCIALNESS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Is social media social? Or is it unsocial? The questions are still debated. But if communication, sharing and participation are considered key concepts of socialness, social media becomes much more social than anything. The truth is social media is changing the traditional ways of being social by expanding the methods of socialization. And, in a way, some of the established social methods are either changing beyond recognition or just disappearing to provide platform to advanced alternatives to socialization.

Pradip Parajuli, lecturer of sociology at Tribhuvan University, says that social media also serves for reconciliation with old friends while remaining within the society of ‘newly found old friends.’ An alumni group on Facebook with a few hundred members is an example of such new reconciled group.

Human desire to create communities is unlimited. In the past it was the limitation of communication tools and ‘time and space’ that had restricted people from remaining a part of larger social spheres. Social media has broken these limitations allowing creation, participation and information sharing in a numerous communities, in many of them, only by virtual means.

CONNECTIONS TO ACTIONS

The biggest thing that we achieve through social media is increased number of connection. From a few friends and a few dozen acquaintances, we have connections with hundreds of ‘friends’ and followers through Facebook , Twitter and other similar social media sites. Partly agreeing to criticisms that all those ‘friends’ are not friends, it is safe to say that the number of people with whom we can share information has increased. Over time, many of them could become friend-like.

Social media, however, is not only about establishing connections. It is also about utilizing connections for actions. The recent social media fuelled revolutions in Arab countries, demonstrations in Nepal and advocacy groups worldwide are but few good examples of social media employing power of connection to create effective actions.

American Professor Jennifer Aaker, in her book The Dragonfly Effect (2010), has eloquently summed up the whole idea: “Although we have witnessed the power of the Internet and such Web 2.0 tools as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect us to others, it is only now becoming clear that we can harness these tools strategically and thoughtfully to bring about massive change and drive social good.”

FUTURE OUTLOOK

The question of what is at stake for future of social media is still a largely unanswered inquiry. Although it is safe to say that social media is going to be an indispensable part of humanity, it is hard to predict what exactly it will do to better the sociological aspects of human lives. Possibilities are immense but risks within those possibilities are not less challenging.

Social media will be a buzzword for every individual, group, corporate organization and the nation-states for next few years as they will frantically search to explore the possibilities for their benefits. The practical uses of social media will surely lead to development of theoretical framework.

Charles Darwin explained long ago that in the history of humankind and animals only those who learned to adapt with the changing phenomenon could survive. Darwin’s statement could well be used today for social media. Take it or throw it, social media is a determining factor of humankind’s future.

(As published in Op-Ed of Republica daily)

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