We are the guinea pig generation. There has never been a group of young people growing up surrounded with so much technology invented with the purpose of enhancing our social life. It all started with MSN, Myspace and Bebo – social networking sites designed to help people enhance friendships, upload and share media and exchange information.
People growing up in the early millennium years will remember evenings spent in front of the computer screen, exchanging gif replacements for words on MSN chat and getting rudely interrupted by your mum trying to use the house phone. You would tactically select what music you were listening to as it appeared next to your name for all to see – God forbid it should shuffle onto Vengaboys and your crush would notice. The ‘Myspace pic’ was the original selfie, all complex angles and MS Paint-enhanced lighting effects, and Bebo was a social networking site not unlike Facebook where you could upload pictures into albums and write on the ‘walls’ of friends’ pages.
Fast forward to 2015 and our social cybersphere has gone absolutely bananas. Whatever we want to communicate across any audio or visual context, you can be sure that there will be about ten applications designed for that purpose. There are a huge amount of advantages of this advanced communication, such as maintaining long distance friendships and relationships, communicating for free with anyone in your social network and also advancing business networks and events activity by reaching more clients through social media. There is something nice about receiving little messages that compels us to constantly check our phones, inboxes and social media pages just in case there is something urgently waiting for us. But in this world of heightened communication, people can be left feeling lonely and even scared of the overwhelming influence social media has on our lives.
We now live in a culture of showing off because of the online platforms that allow and encourage us to do so. It has actually become some sort of achievement to gain ten likes on a picture – there’s no secret that it genuinely makes people happy. It’s become completely sociable acceptable to post repeated pictures of yourself and somehow we overlook how vain that is, never mind it being a complete waste of time.
Most people nowadays use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter regularly and the benefits are of course sharing information and discovering useful things, companies and people. Twitter gives users a direct insight into the thoughts and cyber vocalisations of influential celebrities and people, because you can be sure that you are following that official person. Or can you? Most high profile individuals have another person, or even a team, managing their social media output. So you often only see what a PR team want you to see, rather than an actual opinion. The phrase ‘Twitter storm’ is commonly used and recognised not as a type of weather but a silent torrent of people typing on their phones in an angry reaction to something that someone has said.
Because of the popularity and common use of social networks, we feel like it’s normal to be broadcasting everything that’s happening to us every minute of the day, but is checking in to every place we go to necessary or even safe? It’s just a way of saying ‘look at me, look what I’m doing, isn’t this impressive!’In reality, nobody gives a flying hoot that you’re having your nails done or checking in to a hotel. We need to find enjoyment in simply appreciating the world around us as opposed to drawing our joy from showing it off to others.
Your profile on social media is a completely unrealistic representation of a balanced life. Do you check in to the garden shed when your mum asks you to clean it out? Do you check into a public loo when a bird uses your head as a toilet? No, because people aren’t impressed by that. We mainly see the happy sides of people’s lives on social media, so if you feel that your life isn’t as exciting or glamorous or adventurous as someone else’s, bear in mind that it’s a skewed view of their world, albeit a positive one.
In my opinion, it’s completely acceptable to publish celebratory information and use social media for entertainment – after all, the world is bonkers. But there are much more productive ways to use it than posting updates of the progress of your tan in Mallorca.
Social media has amassed so many users that it is now capable of supporting whole movements of people, providing a uniting platform where ideas can be exchanged and political stands can be made. People now have the power to gather momentum for a united cause very quickly which helps reassure individuals that they are not alone in their views. Hashtags can amass huge followings in small timeframes, which can boost the popularity and visibility of an event or situation hugely, bringing it to the world stage. But communication spreading like wildfire can also have terrible consequences when in the wrong hands. Individuals with destructive tendencies who are determined to engage in harmful activities can accelerate their influence by using social media. The most relevant example of this is so-called Islamic State (or ISIS) spreading their warped version of Islam through social media, using it to reach vulnerable people who they then bombard with harmful, persuasive information in an attempt to convert them to their dangerous ideology.
The fact that messages can be spread at such a speed and in such high volumes means that we are drowning in information. We have never been so informed! And that is a great thing, but we can be left feeling that the world and the events taking place in it are moving so fast we can’t catch them…
So is social media a help or a hindrance? I’ll leave you to make up your own mind. For now I’m off to post a video of a cat in a pirate suit. Hope it gets loads of likes.