Users of Social Media
Social Media is in the process of gradually replacing the traditional media establishment; things like radio, television, and newspapers are no longer the only information feed flooding our homes. All of these previous mediums were mostly a form of one-way communication, so politicians, the corporate news establishment, and the elites were able to give the masses their rhetoric without an organized effort surfacing to challenge existing opinions and spread new ideas (Shirky). In the early days of social networking sites, companies like Facebook succeeded by pushing a message of interconnectedness and transparency. Social networking sites took off like they did because they bridged a gap in public discourse which had undermined human society for centuries (Dijck).
Social Media does more than advance activism and civic participation, however. The original and more foundational appeal of Social Media was creating and sharing. I think that Social Media overcomes many of the problems we see in terms of Gutenberg economics, where previous technological limitations meant that in order for storytelling, journalism, and other creative content to reach the masses it all had to be of a godlike quality to mitigate the financial risk of publishing. Many people use social networking sites because they allow people to cheaply post material that matters to them, material which can be seen by a wide audience. It’s no longer as black and white as there being a small number of content producers and then the rest of the population being content consumers. It’s now more common for people to be both. Social Media originally found a foothold by just being a cheaper form of communication, as when the cost of communicating goes down, people will communicate more. But it has actually set the cost of communicating so low that it has allowed people to connect with groups that they share a common interest with (Shirky). A fan fiction writer can join a fan fiction group on Facebook and they can share their stories with each other. Alzheimers patients can reach out to each other for emotional support. Almost anyone can find a group online that’s right for them.
People are motivated to share with each other online usually not for monetary gain, but for the satisfaction of internal desires. There is the appeal of outward expression, creating something for the sake of it. Professionals could do a better job building a website, for instance, but creating a website with friends over the internet holds more intrinsic value because it becomes a personal creation. People also value membership in a community, as a community can encourage people to compete to improve their skills, or it can make people work together to produce something that would have been out of reach for an individual (Shirky). And today, Social Media builds communities better than any other medium.
Dijck, José van. The Culture of Connectivity: a Critical History of Social Media. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Shirky, Clay. Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators. Penguin Group, 2010.