... because life's too short to do anything ALL the time . Creativity and positivity are my "hiraeth"

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Social Media and Society

Has it really changed the way we live? Is it really that important?


I'm asked regularly what I'm studying in uni - the answer "Social Media" can perplex some people. I've had people with "no idea what that is" to "YOU'RE DOING A DEGREE IN FACEBOOK?!?!?" The answer to both of the last two statements is "no".

As a digital immigrant, I remember what the world was like before the advent of social media and in fact the web. I watched the Tomorrow's World episode that out lined the plan to link the world through something they called "the web".

Immediately (ish), we had email "simplifying" the way we communicate, then skype and conference calling - the initial main uses of the tech. was for business purposes really. So for people not in business, it didn't really affect them.

Only since the web became fully accessible, available virtually everywhere, and in our pockets, has it started to scare people a little bit.

Identity theft. Stalking. Trolling. Paedophilia. Grooming. and the scourge of all evilness - looking at your phone while having tea with your Gran.

Of course none of these things existed before the internet. Lol.

Typically the older generation, I know my Grandmother loves this one, loves to point out "I don't know what you lot would do if you didn't have those things in your pocket" as me, my daughter and my mother are all simultaneously watching something dog related and hilarious on YouTube.

You alter the focus to something they can relate to a little bit though, and they get it a bit more. My Grandmother refused to watch the fairly impressive spectacle of the car park being blown up in Newport recently in real time as she "wanted to wait and watch it on the news". I asked her why, she couldn't really answer - just that was the way it had always been. We're creatures of habit and we don't like change.

I asked her if she would like to have gone, she replied in the affirmative. I asked her if she would like to go and take her favourite arm chair with her and she again replied that she would but that would be a ridiculous idea.

I asked her then if she'd like me to bring the car park to her as it was so un-feasible to take the arm chair with us.

She accused me of being silly.

So I logged onto the live broadcast, on ipad, and we started watching. It didn't take long - we all watched it, all sat on the best arm chair in the world and for a split second, she got it.

Didn't last. Obv.

The world used to be as big as the distance you could travel. Then there were letters, the post. It created opportunities never before considered, and to people who never considered it. It was a huge, but physical change. I would imagine there would have been many resistors - until they received something through the post at last.

Can  you imagine the impact that the telephone had on society, business, relationships? Being able to speak to someone miles away without having to walk and go and visit them?! Truly revolutionary! I know that there were recently some aspects of this used in uber-period drama Downton Abbey with Carson being wholly reluctant to the use of the telephone and in fact the safety implications of having electricity in the house. Until something needed doing.

Likewise with TV - a magical glowing box in the corner of the living room which brought the world to you. "You'll get square eyes looking at that thing!"

Adapting to technology and change is a huge deal and wholly affects our lives in a massive sense. Not only does it affect the way we do our business, who are customers are and how we serve them but also our relationships, the people we hold dear and the people that we "live with".

Through social media I expect we all have examples of a friend or family member who we have recently realised we share a tremendous amount in common with, because of the low key, general, lifestyle related posts we regularly see. In essence we are "living with" more people - hundreds of them. Some expose themselves to be not quite what they think, other people we bond strongly with despite there being miles/continents/countries between us and our lives would be very greatly affected by their lack of presence despite often having never or rarely met.

This is an alien concept to many people and in fact in some circles it's seen to be quite cool to be anti-"social media". The concept of the Antisocial Media movement was something that was introduced to me during the discussions in class around this topic.

It's true. People don't have much "down time" any more. You're on a train journey, when was the last time you day dreamed looking out of the window or did not become a bit annoyed when your twitter feed dropped of as you went through a tunnel? I try to make sure I do this one. I read a book by Carl Honore recently about the Slow Movement which talks about hyper stimulation and feeling the need to be connected, active and productive at all times. It can't happen. It's not humanly possible - not without a major psychotic episode.

Yes, people are looking at their phones walking down a street. It's making a huge generalisation that they must be tweeting - they may be using their G.P.S. and had they not had a mobile that had G.P.S. capability, would they not have been looking at a map?

Did people not use personal stereos before the ipad, iphone, ipod or smartphone? I seem to remember that people had the same awareness related concerns upon the advent of the Sony Walkman many years ago.

Older people regularly tell me that they don't trust online banking or money things. I ask them when the last time they heard about an online bank being held up at gunpoint. We all know about bank robbers and their tights on the head related antics. Bank robbery has always existed.

Stalkers have always stalked. They follow people, they hide, they peep. I'd really rather be stalked on line than down a dark alley on a Friday night. Peeping Toms used to hide in trees.

Paedophiles - they have always existed and will always exist. They have always "groomed" just in a different way.

Something that does fascinate me. There's half a dozen of you, sat around a table in the pub having a good old natter. How many are on facebook? Looking at their phones? Pretty antisocial that.

But what if they're including the 7th member of the group in the conversation that can't make it that night. Is that still antisocial? What if they're taking and uploading photos of some good friends so that the night can be re lived over and over again through the medium of Facebook? Is that still antisocial?

I think what social media has done is shift the focus.

I walked down the street the other day with a good friend who saw the husband of another friend of hers. "Hiya! How's it going!?" "off work today?" "Nah just on lunch - off down to Gregg's". That was pretty much how the conversation went, fairly normal really.

As we walked past my friend said to me "I would normally have asked him how the wife and kids are but he posts so much stuff about them on Facebook that I know they're fine so there's no need for me to ask."

I thought that was really interesting. Social media now has given us the opportunity to carry on many, many conversations with many,, many different people all at the same time. So we're pretty much constantly engaged in conversation, with any number of people. SO the need when we do meet in person isn't quite so great to divulge tonnes of information - because we already have.

It's like having a news paper, with several editions a day, written for you by and about the people that are in our lives in many different capacities, often whether we like it or not!

It's great. Meeting up with someone formally is quite an intimate thing to do. It's also very time consuming. In this world we want maximum return on investment for every minute we have - life isn't a dress rehearsal.

By sharing information and updates through the many channels we have available to us we can focus in person on the stuff we might not want to share with everyone. Social media has made the world inclusive - everyone can use it in some way and the overwhelming vast majority of people use it in some way whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not.

In that way it has changed society. It has made it much easier for us to share causes, reach out to people, help people, do business with people - often all at the same time.

I was interested to read in Erik Qualman's book Socionomics, about Google flu and how Google saves lives.

Yeah right, i thought. Course it does.

Turns out it actually does.

Google has many arms, one of which is a philanthropic arm that they call Google Flu. Google use their infinite data capacity and access to predict outbreaks of influenza throughout the globe and direct the supply chain of vaccinations to new outbreaks. The algorithms created by Googling "flu like symptoms" are enough for Google to be able to track and predict outbreaks - ultimately saving lives. Google gets loads of stick, and rightly so, but I think this is cool as  hell.