I’m done with you, now I’m coming for you.
It is finished. And I am relieved. I’ve completed two major milestones in the same week – RMIT and my book manuscript.
Praise God for how He sustained me through school, ministry, wedding preparations, and authoring in the last two years! I couldn’t have done it without His grace seeing me through. All glory to Him!
The following essay is my final piece of secular academic work. Thought this might help to fill the eerie silence on my blog…
Introduction: abstain to understand social media
From the first email sent in 1971, to the debut of the Internet in 1991, to the introduction of AOL Instant Messaging in 1997, to the launch of Facebook and Twitter in 2004 and 2006 respectively, the way we communicate has metamorphosed the way we socialise. Indeed, social media has become an extension of our personality. At times, it is uniform with real life, but in other instances, it can be altogether inconsistent.
An effective way to grasp the impact of social media in our personal and professional lives is through an abrupt and complete abstinence from it. For the purpose of this assignment (and its relatively personal nature), I embarked on and completed a radical 72-hour social media fast. My observations and recommendations are presented in this essay.
Examining the impact of social media
Cyberspace can elevate anyone to the position of an expert. Popularity instead of pedagogy has become the new credibility; with enough “likes” garnered, any opinion can be deemed believable and eventually accepted. This is the age of blogging and re-blogging, photo and video sharing, and social networking and bookmarking. Alarmingly, social media has overtaken pornography as the ascendant power of and predominant activity on the information superhighway (Qualman, 2009).
Suffice to say, social media has become the resident protagonist of new communication technologies. Jameson (2010, p. 4) aptly described social media “in the 21st century” as “the power of word of mouth… …kicked into hyperdrive by technology”. She echoed Bill Bernbach, founder of international advertising agency DDB Worldwide, who once said in 1989 that “word of mouth is the best medium of all”.
Social media is inescapable
According to Boyd (2011), social networks are “connected by information, time, and space… …[and] navigate life as a series of relationships”. Whether we realise it or not, people like watching others and being watched, and find ways to retain control in watching each other because everybody wants attention. Users adapt themselves and evolve with the improving technology that is available to them.
Social media abounds in multiple platforms. It is only when we disconnect ourselves from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, Instagram, WordPress (among many others) and all online chatting platforms that we realise its pervasive dominance in our lives. Besides its presence on the World Wide Web, social media is also proliferated through orthodox electronical communication means as well as applications on mobile devices; its convenient and seamless attachment to email notifications and mobile application badges means that one is required to effort before he can completely detach himself from social media.
According to McLuhan and Fiore (1967, p. 8-9), the media “is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life” and went on to suggest that youths “instinctively [understand] the present environment – the electric drama” and “the reason for the great alienation between generations” was “created by electronic information media”.
The widespread utilisation of social media is synonymous with Generation Y (or the Millennial Generation) and especially Generation Z (also known as the Internet Generation). Social media has evolved rapidly in a mere decade. And with mobile technology ameliorating at an even faster rate, it becomes inevitable that communication means between people have accelerated and eroded simultaneously through the rampant and seemingly irrepressible exploitation of social media.
Three benefits of refraining from social media
The first benefit felt from an absence of social media is increased work productivity. The Internet Generation is also known as the Multitasking Generation and this multitasking phenomenon is perpetuated by their employment of social media. By keeping oneself devoid of social media, greater concentration is afforded to the task at hand, and increases effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace.
The second benefit felt from abstaining from social media is increased physical rest. One of the key reasons for the prevalent nocturnal lifestyle of Generation Y and Z is the (self-induced) uncontrollable need to respond to social media activity straightaway; micro-blogging and instant messaging has instinctively encouraged users to reciprocate immediately. However, if the urge to reply is eliminated, users naturally wind down mentally, and allow their mind and eventually their bodies to rest.
Sagen (2005) labelled these users as the “microwave generation” and explained how almost everything is demanded instantly.
At what point does someone become so dependent on technology that in our world of instantaneous feedback we forget the virtues of patience and personal cultivation? We live in an era where cell phones, PDA’s and MP3 players are always within a finger’s reach and our dependency on these technological gadgets are such that we rely on them to communicate or entertain with one another.
In essence we’ve turned into a “Microwave Generation”, which can be explained in two parts; one, that our reliance on technology has become so “all consuming” and commonplace that without it we’d be in a state of shock and two, we as human beings want everything now (59 seconds or less it seems). Look around you, there’s a “fast, quick, instant, speedy” service to just about anything you can think of including espressos, fast food, medical checkups and oil changes.
The third benefit felt comes in the form of increased world awareness. Instead of filling our minds with tweets and status updates, we gain the opportunity to keep ourselves abreast of world and national news. Due to prolonged overuse (and possible abuse) of social media, there is a conditioned and institutionalised need to check on the activities of, as well as to share our thoughts and observations among our social circles. The desire to speak and be heard drives people to be active on social media. This might be driven by a basic human need for validation and acknowledgement.
Social media in social environments
One cannot deny that social media has infiltrated the workplace. Organisations have discovered that social media is an efficacious way of reaching their target audience. A dearth of social media is inconceivable in this highly sophisticated consumer climate, especially if it involves getting in touch with youths. Technology assembles “the flaneur and the voyeur” and brings both to prominence; people take turns to watch and be watched because networks are increasingly salient (Boyd, 2011).
Social media has also taken relationship building to a new paradigm. Significant moments (like childbirths, anniversaries, demises, etc.) in social relationships are now magnified and multiplied through social media because it makes the sharing of these moments convenient and accessible. For example, instead of meeting up vis-a-vis, users now keep in touch with each other through weblogs; moreover, user-generated content on social media platforms also provides conversational currency during actual meet-ups. As such, social media has proven itself to be an immensely useful networking tool.
However, social media will continue to alter the way we communicate with real people. And if one is serious about reaching Generation Y and Z for business or personal reasons, then he must consider the capitalisation of social media. It is however, possible to wean off social media so while organisations may rely on the heavy use of social media, it is not wise to depend on social media as the sole platform of communication.
New communication technologies like this might result in Generation Y and Z being handicapped from expressing themselves in real life. They can describe their emotions online but struggle to do it offline in person. As a result, real life communication has eroded into undesirable superficiality because people might resort to tweeting about instead of talking about it. What is more hazardous is that this mentality is set to continue.
Conclusion: social media is a social concern
72 hours provides only a preliminary insight into a world without social media; although a longer duration is necessary for substantiated findings, three days may be sufficient to determine the effects of social media in our lives. For the sake of social balance, social media should remain a social utility instead of a social necessity. One merely uses it (and does not need it) to increase the convenience and efficiency of daily chores and functions.
Social media is here to stay and has become an integral part of the way we communicate; it has become the preferred way of communication. And since voyeurism and flaneurism are inevitable, instead of preventing access, people manage the attention they receive and divert it away.
Hence, instead of denying its impact or shunning the use of it, we must learn to educate ourselves with it, manage and grow with its regular development, and subsume it into our daily routines. To prevent being consumed by it, we should learn to set healthy perimeters for ourselves when we use social media, otherwise it may distract us from and destroy our priorities.
Now, if “people are the most important media” (Jameson, 2010), and if people are defined and made significant by relationships and society, then social media must not become the culprit that takes the “social” away from people.
Boyd, D. (2011). Dear Voyeur, meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media. In Surveillance & Society 8(4): 505-507. Retrieved January 7, 2012, from http://www.surveillance-and-society.org.
Jameson, L. (2010). The Power of Six Degrees. In The Yellow Paper Series. Retrieved February 1, 2012, from http://www.ddb.com/what-we-think/DDB_YP__ThePowerofSixDegrees.pdf.
McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage: An inventory of effects. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Qualman, E. (2009). Statistics Show Social Media Is Bigger Than You Think. In Socialnomics. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from http://www.socialnomics.net/2009/08/11/statistics-show-social-media-is-bigger-than-you-think.
Sagen, E. (2005). Microwave Generation. In Kartooner. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from http://www.kartooner.com/archives/2005/11/29/microwave-generation/