// Posted by David on 05/23/2015 (3:58 PM)
The WELL was an online space where like-minded people could go and discuss a variety of topics whether they agreed, disagreed, or just had a general interest, they could go there to connect and to share ideas without physically being… Read more
The WELL was an online space where like-minded people could go and discuss a variety of topics whether they agreed, disagreed, or just had a general interest, they could go there to connect and to share ideas without physically being in the same space. While I know forums of this nature are still very much a part of digital culture today (the guy with the cubicle across from me almost always has some sort of gun discussion forum open), the communal nature of the WELL made me think about the groups I’m a part of on Facebook.
I’ve been provided an opportunity to be a part of a group discussion about a specific topic, in my case mostly craft beer, where we all have a similar interest, but we don’t all agree on everything. This leads to some lively discussion! Similar to the WELL, these groups have moderators, you can choose to not see posts from people if you don’t find value in what they are adding to the discussion, and the point of it all is to share ideas. I don’t know if it’s necessarily sharing ideas in a scholarly, Socratic sense, or like the prompt mentions “sharing” to score cool points, but it’s sharing nonetheless. Social media is a good example of this. I have managed to seek out others who share my interests on Facebook through Groups. I’ve certainly tried to use Facebook groups, or even just my “wall” as an outlet for scholarly debate, but it often just turns into a mess. Often it gets off topic, disrespectful, offensive, full of bots postings ads, or just plain old trolls. Not helpful.
I think that this ease that we connect with people is what gives the Internet the ability to make us feel united. You can see it in grassroots movements that need to raise awareness or gain support. You could see in in 2008 in President (the Senator) Obama’s election campaign and then after having such success he went in the same direction for reelection in 2012. I looked into this a little bit and I found some research done by The Pew Charitable Trusts that stated that while both candidate in 2012 utilized this method of communication to get their messages to their supporters, they didn’t really engage in the “social” part of social media.
I wonder why this is? I can only assume it’s because sifting through all of the comments and responses, finding which were legit and which were not, and then actually responding would have taken an amazing amount of time, money, and people.
We’ve also seen people unite internationally through social media. Twitter has been used to raise money for disaster relief. Social media was used last month to raise awareness of violent attacks on foreigners on South Africa.
I think we feel this unity because it social media offers an emotional outlet for whatever a situation might be — disaster, human rights, politics, whatever — and in doing so, leaves people feeling empathetic. The ability to understand another’s emotions will often lead to the desire to act, and sometimes even change.
I don’t think we “almost” need social media to feel like part of the world, but rather I think we absolutely need it. 90% of my news and information about what’s going on in the world comes from social media, not traditional news outlets. Granted, some of it comes from traditional outlets just via social media. TV news has commercials. Social media news is in real time, and users are provided more firsthand accounts. I don’t have TV, and, for me, I’d feel entirely disconnected without social media.
While this is normal for me, as with much cultural change, this could be entirely foreign and daunting to say my grandmother. While my grandmother is no longer with us, she got her news from The Washington Post twice a day and from Walter Cronkite in the evening. The 24 hour news cycle and the constant flow of information over social media would have likely terrified her. Further, if she wanted to talk to someone she would go to their house or vice versa. All the neighbors would get together and some would smoke cigars and drink scotch, some would gossip, and some would just talk. There is a tone of value in that, but with the rise of digital everything, a lot of that sense of physical community is gone.
Social media has likely led to a lot of what Robert D. Putnam discussed in his book Bowling Alone:
“In this alarming and important study, Putnam, a professor of sociology at Harvard, charts the grievous deterioration over the past two generations of the organized ways in which people relate to one another and partake in civil life in the U.S. For example, in 1960, 62.8% of Americans of voting age participated in the presidential election, whereas by 1996, the percentage had slipped to 48.9%. While most Americans still claim a serious “religious commitment,” church attendance is down roughly 25%-50% from the 1950s, and the number of Americans who attended public meetings of any kind dropped 40% between 1973 and 1994. Even the once stable norm of community life has shifted: one in five Americans moves once a year, while two in five expect to move in five years. Putnam claims that this has created a U.S. population that is increasingly isolated and less empathetic toward its fellow citizens, that is often angrier and less willing to unite in communities or as a nation. Marshaling a plentiful array of facts, figures, charts and survey results, Putnam delivers his message with verve and clarity.”
Where with me, if I don’t know about something the moment it happens, it’s old news by the time I do find out. Just like in the YouTube video it’s fast. Information is fast, news is fast, baby pictures are fast and you have to keep up or you get lost…whether you think you are or not.
I bet this is not just me – when I’m at work and something big happens – someone famous dies, Boston Marathon bombing, royal baby has a name – it almost seems like a competition to be the first one to blurt it out to the office.
I’d like to end by saying that rambling was encouraged.
Not really, I’d like to end with a funny Yogi Berra quote that I found looking up some info on Bowling Alone (it’s been a while since I read it):
The Publisher’s Weekly reviewer who wrote the above stared his/her piece using the great Yogi Berra’s quote to “articulate the value of social networks.”
I’ll leave you with that.