Social media evolution = human devolution?
As much as I enjoy social media analytics, I’m more interested in the emotional and spiritual changes that social media signals in the U.S. This post will tackle internal drivers of our online presence, including but not limited to clicktivism.
Have technological conveniences like the internet diluted our humanity and intelligence? Yes. Perhaps, a blanket assertion but I stand by it. We are, perversely, more disconnected and connected than ever before. As much as some attribute our smaller and lonelier world to technology, the role of personal responsibility is often overlooked.
Many of us choose to send e-mails and texts instead of placing phone calls and mailing handwritten letters.
Some choose to play Scrabble with Friends on smartphones instead of hosting a game night.
And some choose to tweet their every action instead of being fully present.
Then again, the transformative effect of technology on social interaction may just be part of necessary human evolution. 100 years ago, salons for the elite provided a platform for dialogue while today, high internet penetration allows millions of Americans, regardless of status, to converse online. Although I am not contesting the benefits of the internet and the fruits (social media) that it bears, it has resulted into the substitution of online interaction for real human connection which is an unhealthy choice that many of us have made to varying degrees. I want to underline the importance of choice since the human costs aren’t an imposition of technology. We choose how we engage.
Perhaps, as Shirky puts it, “our social life is literally primal” which explains the insatiable need for some to multiply opportunities for online interaction when our physical and temporal ability to do so becomes limiting. However, we must realize that when we change the way we communicate, we also change society. One of the most apparent manifestations of this change is activism.
I’ll come right out with it. KONY 2012 still irks me immensely. The subject has been beaten to death but its implications for how activists and concerned citizens engage in social change still resonate. As words like “slacktivism” started to get thrown around, I asked myself several questions. Are undemanding awareness campaigns congesting channels for ‘real’ activism rooted in offline action? Have we become lazy? Is the passion and urgency that fuelled the Civil Rights Movement gone or just dormant?
Much like other aspects of our online life, activism has taken on elements of fast food production in that by trying to reach a larger audience, the quality of its supply decreases. If activists had to be compared to food distributors, clicktivists would be frozen dinner shoppers and Occupy campers would be the Farmer’s Market. Do online campaigns give citizens the license not to participate in hard advocacy? To a certain extent. Simulating political and community engagement online lulls many into feeling democracy is thriving online which takes the pressure off from political participation in real-life. Tweeting criticisms of a mayor doesn’t carry the same weight as presenting those grievances in-person at a city council meeting or debate. However, I do understand that not all clicktivists are created equal; movements like Occupy Wall Street do use the internet efficiently to mobilize supporters and translate action offline.
It would equally be unfair to undermine the agency that still exists amongst activists. Without existing motivation, social media as a tool for social change would be ineffective. Protesting can be considered a luxury when weighing the opportunity costs of citizens who cannot afford to do so. For instance, a single-father who cannot take time off to camp in Zucotti Park can still contribute his voice through an online petition or other web advocacy exercises.
You are what you tweet?
Ever since Facebook made it to UVa.’s college campus, I’ve been affectionately (at least I hope) referred to as the online addict by my friends. At the time, whether or not you were active online made a statement. Although I was far from a social butterfly, I amassed 1,000 Facebook friends fairly quickly. It was an exciting feat but beyond bragging rights, which I didn’t exercise, it was worthless in my real-life. Almost 10 years later, my level of online activity is tame in comparison to peers however I did become more strategic. I moved on to Twitter. I learned to manage my networks and the volume/type of information I disseminated. I learned that currency in social media isn’t measured in money but rather, as Qualman describes, in meaningful engagement, participation and value creation. I had to take a deep look at myself and determine why I posted on Facebook or tweeted. I found that at times I wanted to project a certain image but for the most part, I wanted to share anything from laughs, news to music.
Jenkins believes that online users post online for the following purposes: 1) information-sharing 2) creating connections 3) Fermenting identity. The first two points are more widely discussed than the notion that we share to assert an identity. Some engage online with completely fabricated identities while some offer a one-dimensional or amplified version of their offline and even more importantly, authentic self. Are our online identities flawed representations of our actual selves? According to Klout, I’m influential on Invisible Children, Cosmetics and France however my score far from reflected the topics I’m truly knowledgeable about. If sites like Klout, which measures your online influence based on your contributions on Facebook/Twitter, are any indication, then yes- our online selves don’t always reflect our offline selves.
Unplugged: Offline Voices on Social Media
I have asked many questions in this post and decided the best way to flesh out my many questions was by taking the old-fashioned route. Talking to people. Face to face. In the street. Guerilla-style.
Below is a video I produced and edited after scouring various parks in Northwest Washington D.C. on March 5-6, 2012. We discussed anything from the hype of social media to clicktivism and online identity. For the sake of full disclosure, I knew one respondent personally. Please be warned: the winds were quite unforgiving when a few respondents gave testimony.
How has social media played into your life?
What do you share online?
Is your online self the real you?
What do you think about the rise of online activism?
What if social media became absolete?