Friday, March 3, 2017

Social Media II

The range and size of social media networks has increased almost exponentially in the early years of the twenty-first century. We've gone from early forums in which only a few hundred people might participate, such as a BBS or a LISTSERV list, to truly mass media such as Facebook and Twitter, which have billions of users around the globe.

But much more than just size has changed. At a certain 'tipping point,' social media begin to function in ways that, when they were smaller, would have been impossible. Facebook and Twitter have been credited as playing roles in the "Arab Spring" in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia; Facebook's founder has been the subject of a major Hollywood film; and twitter feeds and cell-phone photos has brought down politicians of every party, sometimes within a matter of mere hours. It certainly sounds as though these technologies have crossed some threshold, altering the fabric of reality itself -- but then, of course, one can look back at similar claims made about virtual-reality video helmets (anyone remember Lawnmower Man?) and wonder whether these revolutions will seem such a few years from now.

Three key developments have shaped this period: 1) Social media with "presence" -- a main page at which users can add or copy content, offer images, texts, or video of their own making or choosing; 2) Sites with instant linkability -- the ability of users to add (or subtract) active and immediate connections to other users; and 3) Sites that bundle essential tools (e-mail, instant messaging, and other software capabilities. Finally, all of the above, or at least the survivors in this highly competitive field, have gone multi-platform; no social medium of the future will thrive unless it is available on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and has some system of synchronizing all its users' preferences and updates.

So what next? The spaghetti is still being hurled at the (virtual) refrigerator wall; Blippy, a site that enabled shoppers to instantly "share" posts about their purchases was hacked, and credit cards compromised -- so much for that! -- Google tried to launch its own "Wikipedia killer," dubbed Knol, but the site filled up with spam so quickly that it became almost useless, and Google discontinued it; it also failed to generate "Buzz," a hot-button social networking site that irritated users with its auto-generated list of "contacts," and Apple stumbled with Ping! an addition to its popular iTunes platform meant to enable people to share news about music purchases and performances. The latest entry Pinterest, allows users to "pin" content to one another, with a focus on bargain shopping, and has the unusual distinction that a majority of its users, in many surveys, are women. But will it go the way of the Lifetime network? And what of sites that advertise themselves as 'Pinterest for men'?

It may seem we're already "shared" too much in this era of TMI, and these social media may be reaching their limits -- but I wouldn't bet on it.


  1. It's interesting that you picked out Pinterest in particular when you originally wrote this post, considering the Internet giant that it has become. I think a decent argument could be made for its success as a result of its primarily female-identified userbase. To some degree different media platforms attract different userbases which can make or break its success - you want to attract (or maybe even poach) users from other outlets without alienating all of the others. But women are an unusually potent group of people in this regard because of the constant refrains of "there are no women on the Internet", and the generally hostility one faces if one is revealed to be female (see: gamergate). Of course all marginalized groups face discrimination on the Internet (and elsewhere) and I think the question of how these people create safe spaces is still being figured out (and will never be fully solved).

  2. Social Media II
    “Like us on Facebook”! What an insipid phrase. Begging for people to “Like” you is pathetic. Yet, there it is, everywhere. Posting the minute details of your day is a narcissistic indulgence. Do I really care what you made for breakfast? i don’t care what I made for breakfast. Who has time to keep up with every second of everyone they know daily? I don’t understand how this works. You need some time to do something to write about, don’t you? I guess that’s why people just repost and link, no time to live with all this voyeristic checking in on their dozens and hundreds of “Friends”. People on MySpace use Friend count as a status symbol. There were programs to find you friends. Buying friends. Such progress socially! Sorry for the rant. Honestly, I don’t get it.
    Tony Ricci

    1. I wholeheartedly agree! Both the word "like" and the word "friend" will never be quite the same.

  3. I agree too. I don't have Facebook currently. I don't think I know that many people to "Friend" me anyway. Now that I think about it, it would be depressing to start a Facebook think a part of people posting stuff like their latest bowel movement for instance, is to make them feel special or individualized, or like they have something relevant to say. As Lincoln aptly cautioned, “It’s better to remain silent and have others think you’re a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” I agree with Tony, I don't feel I have enough time in the day as it is to complete my tasks, never mind to Facebook about them. Trust me- I'm not that interesting anyway. I’d much rather read or watch a film about people who actually are interesting.