Guest Post by Kaelan Richards
These days, social media seems to be everywhere— from grandparents signing up for Facebook, to Fortune 500 companies joining Twitter, to elected officials inadvertently ending their careers with a mistakenly sent tweet. It seems like a whole new world, with exciting possibilities and endless opportunities for expression and interaction with others. But is it really anything new?
Throughout history, people have sought to express themselves and communicate with others. Cave drawings, smoke signals, Morse code— these are all forms of communication and methods for broadcasting one person’s thoughts to another, simplistic though they may be. As technologies evolved, easier and more effective methods of communications developed as well, and communication became easier. I remember the day my dad came home with one of the first cell phones, and how amazed we were… today, the sight of one of those grey shoebox-like phones is enough to make the people who remember them laugh. Compare it to a brand-new iPhone, and the stark reality of how far we’ve come (in just 15 years or so) is astonishing.
So why is social media suddenly so popular, and why the buzz around it? It’s just another form of communication, in a world where 6 billion people talk to each other all day, every day. What is it about social media that’s so attractive yet scary to so many? I’d argue that what it comes down to is reach and accountability. Cavemen in France didn’t need to worry about their mothers seeing cave drawings of them lounging in the sun when they were supposed to be hunting for food. These cavemen could draw in a cave their mothers never visited, or argue someone else drew the incriminating images. But in today’s modern world, all a parent needs to do is follow their kid on Twitter to see when, where and what exactly they’re up to.
In today’s world, hundreds of millions of people in countries around the world have access to social media platforms that span continents. It’s easy to tweet someone in South Africa, Australia, Russia or India and get a reply within minutes—that ease of accessibility, where the barriers that once stood in the way of truly global communication have fallen away. But the layers of anonymity that were the hallmarks of previous forms of communication (such as the lazy cavemen, or even pre-caller ID) have thinned as well. Privacy has been a casualty of the social media, and the implications of this frighten many people and corporations.
Social media has, by providing everyone with a voice, ensured that their voices are heard—and not always in a good way. Just this week, a student in the UK was sentenced to 56 days in jail because of racist tweets he sent out about Fabrice Muamba, a soccer player from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who collapsed of cardiac arrest during a game (but survived). As social networking sites have gone mainstream and become credible sources of information, this kind of absolute accountability on a social networking platform is the new reality. Over the next few years, governments and corporations will more clearly define the laws of social networking, and the global landscape will continue to change.
Social media isn’t anything new—it’s just the easiest, yet most accessible, form of communication the world has ever seen. And it’s still evolving, as more and more people and organizations decide to be involved. The next few years will be exciting for social media as technologies continue to improve, accessibility grows, and millions more people join the social networks.