I think of social media in relatively cynical terms. Most platforms seem to have started out with the intention to bring people together and keep them connected, but the perpetual connection to everyone we have ever encountered is a mediocre proxy for actual human interaction/dilutes our personal interactions, i.e. those people who are glued to their phones. The internet is already flush with these sort of lamentations about the pernicious side of a connected culture, and I don’t really want to spend 13 weeks misanthropically rambling about how people don’t speak with each other on the bus. Instead, I think that this post will focus on thinking of good things to say about social media and its impacts on the world. Business too.
Creativity is an intuitive starting point. Social media brings opportunities for people to showcase their creative pursuits at every turn. You can share your photos on Instagram, distill long-winded thoughts into 140 character quips on Twitter, and even post choppy videos of yourself cooking elaborate nachos on Facebook. Obviously, this is great for showing your friends that you are a multi-faceted individual who doesn’t waste way too much time on their phone. However, the global audience that is now at everyone’s finger tips is probably an even cooler upside for those amidst creative pursuits. The fact that these platforms can bring some prodigy from rural Oklahoma’s piano recital to a person idly browsing the web at a coffee shop in Beijing is pretty astonishing. This global connectivity also means that people can find an audience for just about anything that they are interested in sharing—a particularly meaningful aspect for those whose interests tend toward the long tail of creative pursuits.
On the business side of things, all of the creative endeavors that are showcased on the web bring a huge amount of room for monetization. You can buy prints of people’s photos, book that prodigy from Oklahoma for your wine tasting, or even just donate a dollar per month to blogs that you think are worth maintaining. It’s hardly a shock that businesses specializing “E-anything” consistently fetch astronomical valuations.
Crowd funding’s rise is particularly interesting to me. Specifically, platforms that enable anyone with an internet connection and a great idea to pitch it to the world and receive feedback in the form of monetary support seem to level some of the traditional economic barriers to innovation in a meaningful way. Instead of trying to convince the relatively tight-knit and hyper growth-oriented VC community of their projects’ potency, for example, entrepreneurs can let members of a global community decide what to endow—and retain a bunch of equity. Further, crowd funding is not just limited to businesses. It enables innovative philanthropic pursuits, help with crippling medical bills, and one-off projects, like films and even potato salad recipe perfection.
Social media is hardly just a gallery for people’s creative pursuits, though. Facebook’s events feature keeps people in the loop about what’s going on as well as who’s involved. Beyond that, as we briefly discussed in class, these platforms allow people to stay in touch with those who they’re no longer geographically (or personally) close with. Also, revisiting the long tail of personal interests, forum-based sites, like Reddit, provide great communities for those with niche interests. I vaguely remember reading a section of Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together in which she describes people restricting their entire social lives to online forums because of immense social anxiety or feelings of isolation in their physical communities. Obviously, extremes like this are problematic, but the fact that social media-enabled communities add impetus for people who are experiencing social isolation to get out of bed in the morning strikes me as a net good impact of these platforms.
When it comes to my personal experience with social media, there is a good amount of back and forth. Facebook was definitely a great platform for connecting with friends and staying in touch throughout the transition from middle school to high school and high school to college. I still use it to keep up with events and occasionally gain some social capital from photos people post, etc., but the days of scrolling through one’s newsfeed are long gone. The advent of these auto-playing videos has killed any interest in spending more than a minute or two on the platform at a given time. That said, it’d be dishonest for me to gloss over my penchant for the occasional Tasty video—the food looks too good.
Twitter got big at my high school circa 2012 or so, and I maintained an account going into college. I deleted the app from my phone in July because I wasn’t using it often, and look forward to the challenge of actively maintaining an account for this course. As mentioned earlier, I have a huge amount of respect for those who can craft creative tweets and say much more than one would expect from 140 characters.
Instagram is great for seeing people from around the world’s creative pursuits and is definitely my go-to when standing in line or taking a study break. That said, its talons can occasionally sink in and lead me to waste an inordinate amount of time, inspiring the religious use of the app RescueTime.
Snapchat is a novel and generally fun way to keep up with friends as long as nobody has a few too many and decides people need to watch a live feed of the concert they’re attending. Further, snap stories seem to provide a unique sort of case study in self-image. It begs questions like “What do you consider important enough to share with a lot of people versus a few who you could’ve otherwise sent your picture to?” “What kind of image are you cultivating with these ephemeral pictures and videos?” and “How does that weird list of everybody who’s seen your story influence your decision to add to it?” The ephemeral self-image stuff strikes me as especially interesting and unique to Snapchat because it’s the only common platform where people’s posts don’t really endure.
LinkedIn is the only other platform that I have much exposure to. It is an invaluable tool for networking during the recruiting process and maintaining professional relationships in general. That said, LinkedIn definitely brings a traditional flavor of professional egotism that can be toxic in large doses. It will be interesting to see how the platform develops under Microsoft’s umbrella.
This exercise has done well to make me reflect on the positive sides of social media and look forward to being embedded in several platforms while learning more about social media throughout the semester, though I have doubts whether my initial skepticism will be totally dispelled.