Friday, March 23, 2018

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 comment:

  1. When I was in my early twenties I became involved in the support network for the Zapatista National Liberation Army. It was essentially a Maya-First Nations movement that was spurred by the socio-economic injustices suffered by Indigenous communities in southern Mexico, especially in the state of Chiapas. When the U.S. passed NAFTA, those communities, who'd been forced to become involved in the commodities market, were unable to sell their mono-crop corn harvests because they had been replaced with imported corn from the U.S. (one of the stipulations of the trade agreement - watch "Life and Debt" to see how corporate neo-liberalism works).

    Social activist groups got together and organized fundraisers throughout the U.S. The group I was working with put together music concerts (some at the Brooklyn Brewery as well as ABC No Rio). We raised a decent amount of money. What really stood out to me was the constant reference to the internet by many of the activists (There were a lot of computers donated including laptops, enormous in size by today's standards). I had no clue what the internet was. I hadn't used a computer since high school in the late 80s. There was a buzz and excitement about the "new tactics" that the revolutionary force was employing to garner support. It seemed that their struggle had caught the attention of youth and young adults throughout the world. Very little of that outcome had to do with traditional media outlets. Theirs was a digital age driven anti-colonization uprising, the first one I had ever heard of. Perhaps there were others that preceded it, but it definitely was the first Indigenous guerilla army to appropriate cyberspace for their cause. It was enough to cause the Mexican military and government to negotiate a cease fire with the ragtag rebels, many of which were armed with old WWII rifles.