Published in The Hive- Sometime around April 2011
In his landmark essay, ‘Is Google making us stupid?’, Nicholas Carr discusses how Google, and the Internet in general, has made us stupider as a species, ruined our concentration power and has altered our psyche in a very short time. He argues that nothing ever in the long history of human civilization has had such an impact on our basic nature as much as the Internet has had in barely fifteen years of its popular regime. But in the end he laments that nothing can be done about it because we have already been engulfed in a media which puts efficiency and immediacy above everything else.
Though the essay does not deal explicitly with Social Media, it does explain the impact of social media on this generation of people. Now, Social Media is a phrase which is being heard a lot these days. Before we go further, we need to explicitly understand what Social Media exactly is. Popular belief is that Social Media just pertains to the Social Networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, MySpace etc. But Social Media is much more than that. It ranges from networking sites like mentioned before to Bookmarking websites such as Del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon and from Video Sharing and blogging websites such as YouTube and Blogger to the most popular encyclopedia on the Web, Wikipedia. To understand this better, we have to break down the term Social Media. Media is basically anything that lets the information out on a large scale and traditional media usually functions as a pyramid, in a top-down approach. Social Media on the other hand, is about giving the power of expression to people. It is about giving everybody an equal chance to shout their opinions, which Newspaper or Television has never been able to do before, and let people express whatever they want to in their own words.
Like every other technology that has taken this planet by storm, the power of the web could not be appreciated until it grew out of bounds to be managed. But by then it had already become the power of people for it to be exploited by a set of few rich people. Social Media has it’s share of supporters and critics alike and usually both within the same person. Before we discuss the cons, it’s high time we appreciate it for what all it has done. To begin with, the Arab Spring aka the Facebook/Twitter revolution owes heavily to the influence of Social Media in those countries. The dictatorial regime could enforce censorship with an iron fist on the traditional media but nothing could have been done about the undercurrent of the uprising floating on the Web. Like one Egyptian activist tweeted, “We used Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to co-ordinate and YouTube to tell the world.” Another huge advantage of the Social Media has been in the power of the individual. In his magnum opus, The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman talks about the power of the individual in today’s age thanks to the power he is given by websites like Blogger and YouTube to state his views, anonymously if he wishes to. It is this power that has turned people like Julian Assange to collaborate with thousands of volunteers across the globe and get the truth out to the public through the phenomenon that has been WikiLeaks. It is also this power to exhibit talent that has made Justin Bieber, a seventeen year old kid who used YouTube as his platform, one of America’s biggest superstars. Barack Obama has successfully used Twitter to canvass during elections and it is only because of websites like Del.icio.us that obscure but talented web entrepreneurs are getting their share.
But like every technology out there, Social Media too has it’s share of negatives, the predominant among them being the issues of credibility and plagiarism as well as the amount of time being wasted on sites like Facebook. For exactly the same reasons as above for which Social Media has been lauded, it is also being criticised. The power of Peer-to-Peer networking and Torrents is the biggest problem the Creative Industry faces against piracy. The power of blogs has been lauded upon but with so many news sources out there on the Web, the issues of credibility crop up. How true is this news? And to re-check it, people are still falling back to traditional media which is slower but more reliable. True, Wikipedia is the largest and fastest growing encyclopedia out there but are the facts in it true? Who can tally such a huge heap of data, with more getting added to it every minute? And the biggest problem of them all is the amount of time that is being spent on Social Networking sites updating statuses, Liking pictures and watching home-made videos. The stats in this case are alarming.
Despite all this, the total man hours spent on Social Media are growing all the time. And the fact that they will continue to do so is inevitable. We live in a World where there is information multiplicity every year and all we can do is understand and accept it. Only time can smoothen the process out.