Why We Think Social Media is IncredibleAugust 12, 2014
by McKenzie Nalley
Social media has come a long way in integrating itself into our lives. It doesn’t seem so long ago now that only young adults and a few precocious (and age-denying) middle-schoolers populated the social web. Once upon a time, Facebook was the only known social networking site and we associated it with strangers trying to catfish our children (which, thanks MSNBC and MTV, is now a debacle we can enjoy from the safety of our homes). Now we have a proliferation of different social media sites, 74% of all adults online have social media accounts, and the fastest growing demographic is adults over the age of 50, none of which we could have predicted a decade ago when Facebook first launched.
While Facebook still dominates the social media landscape, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and (shockingly, I know) even Google+ are all vying for second place, each containing almost a fifth of internet users. Each site has its own particular demographics: Tumblr and Instagram are very young. LinkedIn is full of professionals. Pinterest is entirely women. Google+ has Google employees and the people Gmail and Youtube have shanghaied. The point is that all of these sites are growing and expanding, and they’re no longer a fad or the domain of a select few. Social media is for everyone, and literally everyone uses it. People who lack Facebook pages in this day and age have become a joke: rubes who live in caves and shun the conveniences of modern technology; or worse, outmoded hippies afraid of getting caught in Big Brother’s sphere of surveillance.
Once upon a time, Facebook was just a social media site. People logged on to chat with friends and get their gossip fix by watching acquaintances’ lives play out. It boomed initially amongst the collegiate, its network of interpersonal connections intentionally designed to mimic the close-knit dynamics of campus community. When they’d left college, they realized the site now had the benefit of facilitating communication between ex-classmate and friends who had moved to various parts of the country. Other people began to use Facebook for the same reasons. Highschoolers picked it up to move their social scene onto the web, adults to communicate with the now-scattered members of their families. Even today when asked why they use social media, the number one answer given by users is “to stay in touch with my family.” But despite our belief and insistence that social media is just social, the truth is that social media has evolved into something more; it’s becoming an online repository of our lives and interests.
Where once our Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of pictures of family and friends, and terse little updates about how their lives were going, they’re now cluttered with information from our favorite news sites and bands and books and restaurants and movies and celebrities. While that may seem like a departure from intended function, it’s not a bad thing. Humans crave information; we crave it with a psychological necessity rivaling hunger or thirst. When we’re on the internet, we try to jam as much of it into our heads as quickly as we can. That is, after all, the point of the internet, isn’t it? To pull information from any time or place instantly to us. We live in a golden age, where anything we could ever want to know (and as a species we have history of wanting to know things) we can have at the instant of our desire.
Social media has become the embodiment of human freedom of information. We get to pick and choose which kind of information we want delivered to us, and when we log into our news feed, there it is waiting. Nowadays, we don’t just log in to Facebook or Twitter to check how our Great Aunt Sue’s vacation to northern California is going or to see who our neighbor’s newest boyfriend is. We get on to check how the crisis in Crimea is going. We get on to see that a new homo species who lived concurrently with humans was discovered in Borneo. We get on to find out that NASA has discovered a propellantless engine capable of taking us to other star systems and back within human lifetimes. That we can know all of this at a moment’s notice, that is incredible.