For most people, social media is the beginning and end of interacting with and understanding the world. Headlines on Twitter educate the people on national, international, and ethical issues. LinkedIn supplies hiring managers and job seekers with a place to meet. Dating apps like Tinder provide a place for singles to connect. Blogging sites like Tumblr give uber fans space to be geeky. YouTube gives commentators a platform to talk about anything. Snapchat also gives people a chance to talk about anything–with a little less time and more emojis. And Instagram allows foodies with a cell phone camera to make like Annie Leibovitz with a burger. It’s no wonder that with all of these different sites and apps and uses, that social media has become the backbone to societal living. It’s totally possible to live a fulfilling life without say, Facebook, but good luck trying to fill that life with friends or family without Facebook friending. Over the years, technology has been a major driving force behind the proliferation of social media. However, it’s not the only culprit. Humans have always been social creatures and discovering new ways to connect and interact with each other is an enduring challenge. As technology continues to push social media to the center of life, it’s once again important to question the advantages and disadvantages of centering life online.
Classic arguments as to why technology and social media are bad for society usually involve two schools of thought: 1.) it hinders the ability to connect with others and 2.) it promotes superficial reading or understanding. Think about it, how many times has reading a Twitter recap of an article replaced actually reading the article? In a 2012 TedTalk, professor Sherry Turkle argues that the more society embraces technology, the more it loses itself. However, even though social media is intricately tied to technology, it can’t be treated the same. For example, Twitter is often credited as being an integral part of Black Lives Matter organizing. It also provided the platform on which editor April Reign (@ReignOfApril) created #OscarsSoWhite, a hashtag where thousands of people came together to criticize the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity. And who can forget Vine, a social media site used by young people all over the world connecting to create unique video content?
Furthermore, social media has evolved to a point where it not only can boost a creative person’s resume, it can also function as a legitimate place of work. Originally, content was made offline, in the real world, and then uploaded to the Internet. Now, there’s a subset of content whose beginning and end is the Internet. YouTube and YouTubers are at the forefront of this online career. The number of thousand- and millionaires YouTube has helped make is the stuff of legends with gaming YouTuber PewDiePie as the king. Social media careers also parlay nicely into real-world deals. From her channel on caring for natural hair, YouTuber Naptural85 landed a gig as a spokesperson for Shea Moisture. YouTubers with a following can get anything from a book deal to a Netflix series based on how they play their cards.
Then again, social media has proved over and over that it’s a fickle place. Just recently Vine, the same platform that helped launch the careers of dozens of young entertainers, shut down. Vine and Twitter (its parent company) couldn’t find a way to make money off the app. This forced those entertainers who used it as a primary platform to switch and adapt to other sites like Instagram and YouTube. Social media careers are also subject to the dwindling attention span that social media promotes. It’s also difficult to claim virality after the fact. No one knows what will become incredibly popular or why there have been many times that Twitter videos or images have gone viral with no credit given to the original poster. The most egregious example would be Kayla Newman, the young girl who created the phrase, “on fleek.” “On fleek” was used in advertising campaigns by million dollar companies, it was used on television, in songs and all over social media. However, Ms. Newman’s connection to the phenomenon was not much more than an afterthought. In “real world” careers, it’s rare to not be paid for one’s work. It’s also possible to take steps to rectify that injustice. Social media, like the Internet, that it lives on, functions like the ‘Wild West,’ where anything goes.
Honestly, social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As stated before, it’s a part of the backbone of society. However, it’s important to recognize its innate flightiness, and adjust for turbulence. For users, social media can be enriching, eye-opening, and life-changing, but that doesn’t mean that it will be. And that’s the difference.
By Lilian Uzokwe