When registering for classes Spring semester last year, I really had no idea what courses I wanted to spend 5 days a week on. Trying to utilize the experience and knowledge of those older than me, I made some off-hand comments about being interested in taking “some social media or something” class next year. This was immediately met with a dose of realism from seniors and juniors alike, telling me that even they had trouble getting a seat in Professor Kane’s class. They told me to wait 2 years and try again. So when the opportunity to take Social Media and Digital Business presented itself over the summer, I jumped on it. I came into class excited about the opportunity and confident that I already knew how to “do social media.” I had just taken Professor Gallaugher’s Computer in Management class, so sharing economy? Knew it. Use Twitter for class? Annoying but whatever. No tests? Sign me up. Yet, like everyone else, the first day of class gave me pause. We have to write blogs? I like technology but 2.5 hours of class? I had my doubts. But, again like everyone else, I’m so glad my hesitation didn’t turn into action. Professor Kane’s class has been one of my favorite and most stimulating courses during my (so far, brief) time at BC.
Social Media Disconnects Us By Connecting Us
Even to this day, I am still amazed by the ability to connect with people all over the world (and in space!), which is provided by the internet and amplified by social media. If I want to follow the local news of “random place,” Kansas, I can follow their city twitter. If I want to connect with my high school friends studying in Germany I can check their Facebook pictures and statuses. There are literally a billion possible connections all over the world for you to make on the internet. And social media has allowed us for these long distance connections to people to intimate, as Stefana Broadbent mentioned in her Ted Talk.
We are also able to connect with ideas that find their roots in foreign thought processes. Yet, we often don’t connect with foreign ideas. The freedom to design our feed has placed us into “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers.” Sometimes this can be innocent. On Reddit, I frequent the subreddits of r/streetwear and r/hiphopheads, which tend to reinforce my prceconeceived notions and thoughts on fashion and music, respectively; however, not all bubbles are created equally. Take a look at r/altright (NSFW: disturbing content regarding racism and sexism). For most people, if you are subscribing to a news source, especially when it comes to politics, you want a platform that reinforces your biases (confirmation bias). People who lean right watch Fox News and people who lean left watch CNN and MSNBC. Social media has exacerbated this divide. Our Facebook is curated to appeal to us. We choose to follow people and institutions with similar views on Twitter. We are able to join online communities connecting us with the other 1% who have the same mindset but disconnecting ourselves with the remaining 99% that offer a different perspective. With the internet becoming increasingly pervasive and ubiquitous in everything we consume, perception can fool you for “reality.” Look no further than the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent outrage, confusion, and bewilderness as an example of disconnected society has become.
The Internet is a Wealth of Knowledge, Which is Often Fake
Going off the election, if there is one thing you should take away from the year 2016, it is that not everything you read on the internet is true. At its very core, the idea of having access to ideas and people from everywhere is tantalizing. I can learn multivariable Calculus on Khan Academy, read about World War II from the perspective of a Chinese person, read a PDF of The Great Gatsby, etc. Literally anything I want to know or learn is available on my phone to some extent. But with this “anyone can say anything” freedom that creators have online, there are risks. Again, look no further than the 2016 Presidential election. With such polarized bubbles, it has become easy (and profitable for some) to post unsubstantiated news sources that people eagerly consume to fit their own agendas. And as people have begun to prioritize efficiency over quality, even some of the most well established journalists and news sources have committed to being first in regards to covering a story than being the best at detailing it. Naturally, mistakes and errors follow. I have to take every news story with a grain of salt. I have to cross reference details and “facts” and make my own judgment call as to what is true and what is not.
Technology Will Make our Lives Easier…Hopefully
So social media and online platforms might have some rethinking to do but at least automation and AI will make our lives easier? Well, it’s complicated…again. Autonomous cars are on the horizon, which is exciting. Moving from point A to B will become not only easier but faster. Think of all the work you can get done (or Netflix you can watch) now that you have freed up hours in your day. Shipping across the country will be cheaper as the goods will deliver themselves, benefiting both the consumer and the business. A step closer towards utopia for everyone except the truck drivers. That’s 3.5 million Americans out of work (1 in 90 people) with a skill, driving, that is now obsolete. Amazon Go and McDonald’s hope to have the same effect on cashiers, and the very idea of the workforce is on the cusp of a radical, fundamental change. As innovation continues to outpace the average worker’s ability to adapt and learn, this epoch will be marred by large scale unemployment; unless, society figures out the how to make disruptive technology less disruptive. Webster definition of technology used to be “the use of science…to invent useful things or solve problems.” If automation benefits few, then how useful are these “useful things?” What good is solving a problem if it causes more problems? Today, Webster’s definition of technology is “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area.” No two definitions of the term are alike as each one of us has our own notions as to what “technology” is. If we can’t even describe it, how do we know we can benefit from it?
Essentially, what I am saying is that social media, the internet, “online,” digital, it’s all complicated, messy, and ineffable. It is good and bad for us. It is tool to connect with others and also to be isolated. It will make some our lives easier and some our lives harder. If you came into this class wanting to learn what the best way tackle social media is, you are probably leaving class with your questions unanswered. What I have learned, though, is to be aware and to understand that these contradictions exist. Digital isn’t just a new frontier in this world, it is a whole new world. And thanks to Professor Kane, all my classmates, and this class, I now have the skills to explore this world.