Digital Life Is Just More Real Life

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.

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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.

-Jess, @jayyayybee

5 comments

  1. I could not agree more, I was lost for words when I tried to articulate my semester. I am usually not one to get sentimental about classes, but I really enjoyed the group of kids and the material we learned in this class. I love how you touched on the Ted Talk with connections because it is unbelievable how connected everyone is. I finally realize the “six degrees of separation” rule. But I love the infographic you put up because that is a problem that needs to be addressed as well. I find this class rewarding because a lot of time we leave with more questions than answers, which is good because it will keep us thinking and staying engaged trying to find an answer. I really enjoyed reading your post, thank you for sharing!!

  2. I definitely agree with you that your sentence from your first blog post is a great way to frame the semester. This class provided huge shifts for perspective. Though many are familiar with Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat before entering the class, I think most people’s opinion of them and understanding of them has dramatically altered. Tying that into the different realms like public health and science is a really insightful connection to make. I really appreciated the reflective nature of your post, detailing your own personal experience with the class.

  3. I consider that post to be “mission accomplished.” 1) it was actually a traditional social network perspective (i.e. Christakis) that got me started in social media 10 years ago, so I guess it’s natural that I bring that view to it 2) Completely agree with your conclusion “it taught me about being social, no media required.” Although the tools do change how we can be social, it is the relationship that is more important than the tool.

  4. Great post! I loved your insights on continuous connectedness; in this day and age it seems like having the *ability* to be hyper-social implies that you *should* be doing it. There has come to be an expectation of people to respond to text messages within minutes, or reply to a comment on Facebook asap. But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Things like turning on read receipts used to entice me since people would know that I hadn’t responded, because I hadn’t seen it yet. But no, now if you don’t reply with those on people just assume that you’re purposely ignoring them, like in the original case. Where do we go from here? I don’t know. Regardless, social media is here to stay and we might as well get comfortable. Thanks for the post, have a great summer!

  5. Great post! I agree with your comment about “stepping back” and trying to see social in the widest lens. There are so many additional realms that I would have never considered part of social media before this class! IS6621 also made me think about social in a more positive light, especially once I realized the infinite ways digital media truly impacts our lives.

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