The Significance of Social Media

Interaction is a significant aspect of human culture. An article by Mike Laurie investigates the different ways social media has changed us. Over time many different forms of communication have evolved. From inconvenient, labour intensive technologies such as Morse code and carrier pigeons, to instantaneous connections through wireless devices. Rather than posting a letter or buying a newspaper we are now able to share, produce, and circulate endless amounts of information in simple and effective ways.

Skeptics consider social networking to be straining society with regard to social etiquette and identity. However, I would deem these to be issues within the media as a whole and not just social media. Consider a teenage girl reading a magazine – the collaboration of articles and images would produce something to the effect of: “Wear this. Wear that. Act like this around boys. If you’re thin and pretty you will be happy and popular”. In this sense, the consumer only has the option to do just that – consume. And while these same messages may be sprawled across the Internet, we are no longer lazy consumers of passive messages – we are active participants. Social media is about being connected, engaging with old friends and creating new experiences. Instead of being limited to the information in a 25-page magazine, we can now explore what feels like infinite amounts of content. Laurie describes time before the Internet to be when limitations of learning existed due to poor literacy and lack of access to books. If “knowledge is power” and you have access to continuous information distribution, your desire for knowledge is legitimately within fingertips.

iphone-and-social-media-icons

Image souce

An article By David Wallace outlines the statistics with regard to the influence social media has had beyond the notion of socialising. Employment, news, law enforcement, education, political participation, economy, music industries and marketing systems have all been prompted and enhanced through social media. A report by PEW suggested that social networks have encouraged younger generations to be more involved in political issues, a fine example of society being more interested and informed with the world around us.

Through citizen journalism comes the rise of “gatewatchers”, where user-generated content flows freely among platforms. Axel Bruns (2003) states that social networks fabricate participant communities through various understandings and interpretations. Bruns states that blogging should be recognised as a significant form of journalism. Online gatewatchers may actually compliment the mainstream journalism industry through the diversity of discussion and debate, no longer being limited by the “gatekeeper”.

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Thanks evolution for the extra limb, I shall call it technology.

So the other day my stepdad was telling an old story and mentions that he was “running to get the phone”. One would only assume a landline connected to the wall, right? Well my 6-year-old brother interrupts innocently and confused, ‘Why would you get up and run to the phone? Why wouldn’t you just get it out of your pocket?’ even out of context, this seems to be an accurate depiction of society today. We actually have a home phone in our house, so I found it quite peculiar for him to presume it was a mobile.

As technology continues to evolve, so does the emergence of tech addicts. Does owning a smartphone make you an addict? I felt that what my younger brother said was a great way to point out the moral panics surrounding tech addiction – even though your mobile isn’t physically attached to you, he still observes that it is always on your person. It’s this device you carry around that acts as an extension of yourself, and into the wireless society. Results from 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits study indicated that 72% of respondents claimed their phone is within 1.5 metres of them most of the time.

While moral panics tend to surround media content, I felt it worthy to note that it is also media usage.  An example of this would be the emergence of “quiet zones” requiring a no mobile/device policy. Public spaces such as restaurants, Café’s and airport lounges are now introducing these quiet zones and are becoming more popular. Similar to the vigorous spread of “No smoking” areas once society became wise to the health risks associated with cigarettes. But how is being on my phone harming anybody? You may ask. Ha, this is where the moral panic is – anybody who has worked in customer service would agree that serving someone who is texting, on a call, or completely fixated on their phone screen during a transaction is rude and frustrating. It’s becoming increasingly apparent, and is a poor form of social etiquette. While (as far as we know) addictive use of hand held devices do not have fatal [physical] affects the way cigarettes do, there is a lot of psychological damage that should not be overlooked. Anxiety, stress, severe distraction and social breakdown are some of the mental health risks we all face on a daily basis.

iPhone-Cigarette

Research indicates that out of the 56% of Americans who own smartphones, 40% experience “Nomophobia” – fear of being without your mobile. Furthermore, studies suggest that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than drink driving, with 55% of respondents still admitting they do it. Research from Versapak indicated that 51% of the UK residents who were surveyed (1,245) stated they suffered from ‘extreme tech anxiety… feeling a lack of control when separated from their gadgets’. Constantly checking and re-checking your device, coupled with feeling anxious when you can’t, is also a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In addition, if sometimes you think you’ve felt or heard your phone vibrate when in fact it hasn’t – this is known as “Phantom Cell phone Vibration Syndrome” which is another telltale sign of tech addiction.

Be aware of your behaviour with technology. Are you active in your surroundings? Do you lack focus? Is your work suffering significantly? Do you feel anxious? For many of us this behaviour may already be integrated into our lifestyle, but it is important to identify and minimize the risks.

However, it’s not all bad. Devices are used for productivity, entertainment and communication – I just think it’s important that we don’t depend every waking minute on it. The most common sentiment in relation to smartphones is the sense of “connectedness”, as humans, our natural instinct is to connect with others.