There have been several social media sites I have used in my lifetime, starting at a pretty young age. I never bothered to make a Myspace, but I certainly remember spending many late nights awake on AOL’s instant messenger, AIM, talking to my middle school friends. AIM was my first experience with social media, and getting the screennames of everyone and anyone was paramount. Cliques were solidified by whose screenname you had, and whose you didn’t. What a nightmare. But what made AIM briefly successful and so appealing to us at the time wasn’t due to any fancy features or creative design, but simply the ability to connect with someone. For myself and my middle school peers, AIM was an extension of the lunch table; gossip, jokes, and all other conversations could continue when we were separated. AIM exemplified one of the most basic concepts in social networking technology; human connection above all.
Despite the myriad of social media sites currently and previously available, if someone was to ask me what my immediate thought was upon hearing the phrase “social media,” I think my answer would be the same as most of you reading this. Facebook.
When I joined Facebook in 2008, it had just updated its look. “The wall” was added as space for posts, photos, comments, and messages. It made sense as my next social network platform, as it allowed me to contact my friends, and also see what they were doing and look at their photos. I think these basic features are what propelled Facebook to the top. It also perfectly suited my lifestyle at the time; my family had just moved to a new summer house, and I was heading to Australia on a student trip. I was making new friends and taking lots of photos, so I had much to share with my friends back home. To this day, I see posts from people I otherwise would never have had further contact with, so in this way Facebook facilitated my social “branching out.” My friends list was full of people from around my home state of New Jersey, and after my trip, international contacts as well.
Before writing this blog, I looked back at my Facebook activity from that first year, 2008. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed with my slang usage and other lazy shortcuts in statuses such as “goin to da movies 2moro,” but I noticed a trend much more interesting and insightful. I was using Facebook mainly for two purposes; to share my plans and opinions, and to post photos. I was constantly sharing where I was going, or what I was doing, or my opinion on something I had just seen or heard about, and in turn my friends would respond. Similarly, I was sharing photos of the places I was going and the people I was meeting, and initiating discussion between people who had never met, and would never meet. Of course, this demonstrates one of the key and unique aspects of online social networks in the interaction between strangers. But in addition, from these two basic usages, one would be able to predict the creation and popularity of subsequent services Twitter and Instagram. All of my statuses were short thoughts of some sense of self-importance, or an effort to coordinate with my friends, something that Twitter captured immediately. And for sharing photos, Instagram is clearly the ideal choice, offering filters to enhance your artistic vision, and tagging to share your posts with those similarly minded. I have not used a personal Twitter, because the need to share my less relevant thoughts with the world was happily a phase I grew out of. But in addition, Facebook’s nature allowed it to accommodate changing uses, so that the growth of Twitter and Instagram supplemented Facebook, but did not replace it.
However, for my generation, I believe Facebook, the giant, is dying. Of course the company as a whole is doing just fine, but consider this: how often were you posting on Facebook 3 or 4 years ago, compared to today? I can definitively say I was much more active in the past, while now the majority of my posts are sharing my Instagram photos or articles I found interesting. I have a few thoughts on why this might be, at least for me personally, and I am interested in looking deeper. My initial reaction is that the context has changed. Back in 2012 or so, my posts were just for me and my friends. I could say what I wanted to a community of my peers, so there was little need for restraint or censorship. It was a closed network of annoying high school students acting almost in isolation, to amplify the effect of our obnoxiousness.
That being said, I was a relatively tame individual, compared to people I knew and consistently saw on my feed. Fast forward to now, and my network includes colleagues, past teachers, and family members. It may seem cliché to suggest that older people are slower to pick up new technology, but it took a few years before the older generations that I knew started popping up on my Facebook. But the more my friends’ parents started getting active on Facebook, the more they moved on to new mediums. The novelty and excitement wore off, to a point where now I merely use Facebook to keep track of where people are. Along similar lines, employment is a huge factor in creating a social media persona. We need to appear to be professional and respectable in all manner of our lives in order to be an attractive applicant.
But again, this is just a theory from personal experience. I think it’s an idea I will dive deeper into in the future.