The Social Media In Our Life Media
Many people have used social media at least once in their lives. According to Peggy Orenstein, most people agree that social-networking sites have allowed users to connect with people in ways they never could before (p. 40). Thanks to social networking sites, we can share anything with many contacts in just a matter of seconds. We can do this whenever we want to and from anywhere we are (technology permitting). Sites like Facebook and Twitter have become more and more a part of our life, both directly and indirectly. They are used by various people for myriad reasons and in different ways. Some of this reasons and ways have generated much criticism. But they keep being used more and more. Social networking sites are not perfect; however, they have shown their strength and their ability to withstand time.
Many writers look at social networking sites with a critical eye. In her essay, "Faceless on Facebook," Kate Beals says: "The personal area on Facebook is less about the real you and more about what you want people to think about you" (p. 49). She points out how social networking users might be constructing their online image, by critically assessing every information or post they put online, instead of sincerely showing themselves and not worrying about the image it would give of them. Beals herself epitomizes this, for she is constantly worried about how people would look at her, through her "personal page." Another critique is that social media encourage users to keep posting every thought or acts online. This encourages quantity over quality as Christine Rosen says in her essay, "Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism" (p. 59). And I also agree with her thought: "True friendship can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy because it depends on mutual revelations that are concealed from the rest of the world" therefore "the idea of public friendship is an oxymoron" (p. 56). Social networking sites can help by creating a virtual contact between people, but we need much more than that if we want to create a true friendship. Even though both of these writers have a point, they are missing the true strength of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Practicality is the most appealing positive aspect of social media. Not so many years ago, if we wanted to share the adventure we had during a wonderful trip to Europe, we would have needed to meet a friend in person, catch them up on the phone or send them an e-mail and wait for an eventual response. If we wanted to show a specific picture of the Coliseum, we would have first needed to print it, put it into a photo album and wait for them to visit us. Today, we would post every picture right after we take it with our phone. We would share our adventures right after we experience them. This way all our friends or followers (as they are called on Twitter) would be able to enjoy our antics instantly.
But is practicality the only strength of social media? Facebook's website says there were 955 million monthly active users at the end of June 2012 (facebook.com). That number equals a seventh of the world's population. There has to be more to social networking sites than simple practicality. In his essay, "You Gotta Have (150) Friends," Robin Dunbar says: "Emotional closeness declines by around 15 percent a year in the absence of face-to-face contact" (p. 46). Whether or not accurate, this statement has been true for me. When I moved from Albania to Italy, I had to say goodbye to many good friends. This happened in 2001, and back then, the only way of communicating for us was phone calls. Since those calls were not so cheap, my friends and I rarely made them. By the end of the year we were feeling both, physical and emotional distance. Lately, I had another life-changing moment. Just a month ago I said goodbye to Italy (and all my friends there) and came to the United States. After this separation, I had much more reliable and costless ways to communicate with my friends. This way we can keep our emotional bond alive no matter how far we are from each other. I am confident that we will not end up like my Albanian friends and me. This is, by a fair amount, because of social media.
In the same way social networking sites are used to keep up with friends, they can also be used to keep up with the world. Many communication media use websites such as Facebook to keep people informed on virtually everything. Many celebrities, journalists and even political figures have a public page on Facebook, or they tweet regularly. President Obama, trying to attract younger voters, used social networking websites extensively during his 2008 presidential campaign. One of the defining moments for social networking sites, especially Twitter, was their usage during the revolutionary uprisings in different Arab countries in late 2010, also known as "Arab Spring." During that period, I noticed the amount of input that news media took from social networking sites. I do not know if social media were a catalyst for the uprisings or simply tools used during these events, but they undeniably played a role.
Besides sharing information about ourselves and the world around us, social networking sites can be a powerful marketing tool. A positive post on a certain product, made by a close friend, is much more powerful than a commercial. When I need to decide on what to buy, or I need to know how good specific restaurants are, I always rely on what my friends think about it. A perfect example for this is Foursquare. Foursquare is an application for mobile phones. It gives you the opportunity to "check in" into specific places, and leave comments about your experience while visiting those places. All these "check-ins" and comments are shared instantly with your friends. The better the rating a particular place has, the higher the possibility I will go there.
No matter how we look at them, social networking sites have built a strong position in our society during these last years. They have given us some powerful communication tools. Whether or not we choose to be a part of social media, there will always be somebody that will use them according to their needs.
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