Reflecting on a single semester doesn’t sound so hard, but when I sat down to write this post, I struggled to articulate the multitude of different thoughts and ideas that I formed as a result of this course.
In the beginning, I had no idea what to expect. I had to pretend for the purposes of my blog post about the topic, so I attempted to make something up until I hit an acceptable word count. It turns out I kind of nailed it:
“I am taking this class to allow myself to step back and see the broader social landscape in its entirety.”
I did step back. The views were astonishing, and their effects were profound.
From the very first class, I began to think about the world differently. We watched Nicholas Christakis talk about how social networks are embedded in our lives. This realization allowed him to see the world as “pairs of people connected to each other,” which were then “connected into foursomes with other pairs of people nearby. And then, in fact, these people were embedded in other sorts of relationships: marriage and spousal and friendship and other sorts of ties. And that, in fact, these connections were vast and that we were all embedded in this broad set of connections with each other.”
I found this idea about embedded social networks to be a great framework for thinking about pretty much everything. This concept helps inform study of digital trends, but it also helped me think about all the other issues I encountered throughout the course of the semester. For example, social connections and the flow of information influence public health, scientific research, and healthcare. These connections can also provide a framework for thinking about the development of various forms of written genre and forms of communication throughout history.
The underlying social behavior of humans forms the foundation of social media and is essential for understanding how digital technology is affecting our work and our life. Companies need to be able to successfully utilize technology for internal communication and employee engagement. They also need to understand how to successfully compete among connected products and consumers.
The technology available to us now is life-changing, and as we’ve discussed, brain-changing. These changes might not be that bad. After all, humans and technology have been shaping each other since the dawn of time. Generally, we adapt because the benefit provided to the technology is great enough to warrant its implementation.
My positive outlook on social media has largely been reinforced over the course of the semester. However, I now understand more of the dangers that come along with social media and digital technology. I had previously been happy to ignore any naysayers and combat them with evidence from my personal positive experiences with social media. Now I am more aware of potential problems, and more importantly, the need to continually evaluate new technologies. Some of them might be making us worse off. For example, many people think we are becoming addicted to our mobile devices. Additionally, GPS technology has negatively affected some users. In a phenomenon known as “death by GPS,” people have been known to blindly follow their GPS systems into dangerous and even deadly situations.
Of course, this technology also unleashes enormous social capabilities. We have the capacity, and thus, the expectation to connect with hundreds of people in a single day. You probably have more Facebook friends and Twitter followers than most people would encounter in a lifetime for most of human history. It’s beneficial to be able to manage so many connections for things like maintaining friendships, but that level of connection can be taxing, especially when it involves being barraged by notifications all day.
A someone who is naturally curious, I recognize the value of the Internet for learning and gathering information. Without it, I’d probably be alone in the library. Instead, I’m in the library with millions of other Twitter users (jk, kind of). No matter where I am, as long as there is wifi, I can be social. But not too social. (I usually have my iMessage notifications turned off).
This class was supposed to help me learn about social media, but it ultimately taught me about being social, no media required. The digital world is just the real world intensified, so it helps to have your feet firmly planted on solid ground before diving into digital.