Before I begin, I think I need to make it clear that social media and social networking sites mean two different things, although in some cases, the line between them aren’t that clear. Social media is a channel to broadcast information, typically like Twitter and YouTube, where as social networking sites are sites that allow you to connect with other people like MySpace. However, it also depends on how you use the sites, they can be both social media and networking sites. Facebook is one of those that’s right in between (and also Twitter in some cases).
If we look back in the 18th and 19th century, people are sharing about their life through diaries. They write short sentences on what they’re doing or something they want to remember and they share these diaries with close family and friends. So, human nature hasn’t really changed – we still love sharing.
So, why are we so excited or talking so much about social media? The role that social media has in our life has dramatically changed the way the internet works and information is distributed. Rather than being passive information receiver, we’ve now starting to create our own content and/or participate in content creation (e.g. leaving comments or replying).
When the plane crash in Hudson River in New York, the first person to broadcast the crash was actually a resident of a Manhattan Apartment on Twitter. He sent the tweet 4 mins after the crash. People were retweeting the crash and it wasn’t until 15 minutes later that mainstream media picked it up and started broadcasting the accident.
Internet itself has become a setting, or a space, where we build relationships much like a physical space like this (referring to the hall). We go online to engage, to find information and to collaborate, and the internet has given people empowerment and confidence to achieve or do what they usually wouldn’t do in real life e.g. activism, help-seeking (depression) and building relationships.
The internet allows us to trust strangers. Friends online that we’ve never met offline doesn’t make them any ‘less friend’ than a physical friend. Take for example, the last few weeks, I want to start a movement that changes young men’s perception of “real man” and “mates”. Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young people and 4/5 of all suicides are young men. The whole idea is to get young men to actually look out for their mates, having meaningful conversations with their mates and strip away the stereotypes of what real men means. I emailed the idea to a group of my friends and within days, I have a working group. We’ve been working together for 2 weeks now and some of these guys are from Melbourne and I have never met them in real life at all. We’re all contributing equally to the project, and we all work as if we have worked together and we know each other for ages. The collaborative atmosphere that the internet has allow is immensely powerful.
Having said that, that brings up the point on bullying, predation and addiction. These are inevitable, because like I said, the internet and social media has become a setting in which we build and maintain relationships, and thus, makes it the same as a physical space. We are just as open to bullying, predation and addiction in physical environment as we are virtual, and to me, restricting virtual access is like wrapping your kids in cotton wool. I believe that the only way forward is to promote digital citizenship and safety online (as we do, offline). The good news is, young people are actually have a better idea on cybersafety than most adults! Also, if we put these negative events in context to the immense power of technology, restricting a child’s access to technology is really restricting their ability to engage, find information and build relationship. I think its all about the balance
In our generation, virtual interaction lays on top and weaves through physical interaction and they are part of each other. To us, the online and offline spaces are just spaces – they are not merely tools or entertainment. The way we use them can make a huge difference in the world.
Social media is only at its tipping point in terms of participation, knowledge distribution and technological advancement as the web moves to becoming more social.
What we need to think about and shift our attention to is bridging the gaps, especially in terms of solving social problems and doing good. The hyperinterconnectedness that we are experiencing right now, if anything, holds a huge potential if we can harness the interconnectedness to change the world.