I got to thinking that as one of the elder statesmen of the class I might be able to provide some unique perspectives on social media and the Internet. I mean, I literally still remember sitting in the Mods at Boston College as a senior during the spring of 2004 when Facebook literally first burst onto the scene. Due to the proximity to Harvard, BC was actually one of the first schools to gain membership to “the” Facebook, along with other big Boston-area universities and the Ivy League schools. It may be hard to see in the picture to the right, but BC was the first school listed on one of Facebook’s original homepages. It’s even interesting to think about Facebook being somewhat of an exclusive club at one time as opposed to the all-encompassing social media platform it is today. When the link first crossed everybody’s e-mail, nobody really knew what to make of it. What’s the point? Who is going to see this? Is my information safe? While some, including myself, were skeptical, everybody felt compelled to sign up for an account.
My memories of the Internet, e-mail and social media go back to about 1996 when America Online (AOL) was on top of the mountain. It seemed like they were sending out a new CD-ROM every other day with additional features and offers for free hours on a dial-up connection. Yes, a dial-up connection, meaning if my mom, dad or sister simply picked up the phone to make a call, I would immediately be signed off and a shouting match would ensue. It is also crazy to think back to the business model of charging customers for web usage by the minute. That would and could never fly today since everybody is connected to the web 24/7, but it shows how surfing the Internet and connecting with others used to be more of an appointment activity. Put another way, Internet usage was literally being rationed in my household like butter during World War II. How did we ever live like that? From a social perspective, once on AOL, chat rooms, where you gathered with friends and/or strangers to discuss anything from plans for that evening or political orientation, was the norm, along with direct person-to-person messaging. I know I am part of a dying breed and to signify my reluctance to change, my original AOL account is still active to this day. I actually received an e-mail from AOL recently thanking me for 16 years of “loyalty.” I’m sure they wish everybody held on for as long as I have.
As the millennium approached, AOL Instant Messenger, better known as AIM, became king of my social media world. This service was essentially an extremely trimmed down version of AOL, comprised solely of the feature that everybody used the most – the direct person-to-person messaging. For all four years of college, from 2000 to 2004, whether we’d like to admit it or not, everybody I knew was obsessing over AIM away messages and profiles. Away messages were viewable by everybody on your Buddy List and were meant to entertain and inform others while you were away from the computer. Even the font style, size, and color were decisions that might require a night to sleep on. Anybody my age knows we’ve all sat in front of the computer staring at our Buddy List, waiting for the little yellow piece of paper to disappear next to someone’s screen name, signaling they weren’t away anymore and were at their computer ready to mingle. While at school, AIM was a great way to stay in touch with friends and family from home but I also found myself chatting and making plans with friends who were only steps away within my dorm. That doesn’t really make much sense, does it?
This takes me to today and why I decided to take this course. While I am somewhat up-to-date on social media, I am by no means well-versed on everything that is out there. I created my first LinkedIn account last year upon entering the MBA program and signed up for my first Twitter account 6 days ago. I have been pleasantly surprised by how useful and fun these platforms can be. I do have an active Facebook account which was originally set up back in the Stone Age (2004), but as crazy as it may sound to some of you, I can be known to go a week or two without signing on. As I don’t own a smart phone, I am not plugged into cyberspace 24/7 which partly explains this phenomenon. I have also never felt the urgent need to check out what my “friends” cooked for dinner or how terrible their day was. I use it as a means of staying in touch with people and for a good laugh here and there. While I have survived with these lax social media habits, it is becoming clear that a change may be necessary. Furthermore, as an MBA student it would be naïve of me to ignore the infiltration of social media within the business world. It has truly become an essential piece of the puzzle with regard to starting and maintaining a business in any industry. In working on the core MBA consulting project last year, I learned that even a firm like Putnam Investments has a dedicated social media director.
With all this said, I am looking forward to learning from all of you and I hope this blast from the past gave you some context for where I am coming from. Now, if you would excuse me, I have to check the Twitter feed.