Social Media – a simulated society or a tool for enhanced participation?
Until recently, having a ‘chat’ was something you did with friends over a cup of coffee or on the phone. Most people chatted to make and maintain their connections with their community. The media were the sole domain of expert journalists, editors and photographers who formed and presented the public commentary on events in society. Access to social media now means we can all ‘chat’ ‘like’, ‘tweet’, post blogs, post pictures, comment and interact in ways that are more complex, faster, cover wider distances, and cross many traditional cultural and social boundaries. We can also ‘unfriend’ and ‘troll’ in ways that are sometimes brutal.
The rapidly rising use of social media reflects people’s need to actively participate in rapid social, economic, and cultural transitions – to negotiate new relationships and processes, share emerging knowledge, understand, and adapt to change.
Social media are already disrupting the ways we share knowledge and information. Now many more people participate in making and sharing news, sourcing information and creating a shared awareness of situations and events. More people can now creatively reframe beliefs and ideas, solve problems, collaborate, and generate new innovative actions. Greater participation and growing experience has resulted in a less trusting and more critical appraisal of other people’s efforts to explain events or solve problems. There is a growing dissatisfaction with many political and social institutions.
Because social media are new, and rapidly adapting to user demand, it is easier to see, and critique, their underlying structure and design. We can wonder about the impact of a digitally based form of social interaction that is changing our shared awareness. Is it real or a simulation? Is there a need for security and privacy? Would we feel socially isolated if we could no longer access our daily time on Facebook or Twitter? As importantly, we might wonder: Why did we choose in the last two centuries to be couch potatoes and passively accept other people’s commentary on events via radio, newspapers and TV. Why did we need to believe in the truth of such a fabricated, one size fits all, cultural reality?