By now, we all agree that social media has had a tremendous influence on our culture, in business, on the world at large. It’s hard to even imagine that a little over a decade ago there was no Facebook or Twitter. 16 years ago people were actually waiting to hear from one another because even email was a luxury. Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate and socialize on the Web.
How is social media really influencing our life and the society in general? What are some of the substantial impacts, both positive and negative and some downright ugly, that social media has had on our society? In my opinion, it has had a positive impact. I am all for the widening of the world we live in, and easy communication around the world.
Nonetheless, I also see the backside of the coin. I am aware of the cons along with the pro. So, let us delve into the impact of social media on society.
First, we have the obvious: communication. We’re living in a time where the entire world is open to us. It has rendered all the communication and interaction barriers immaterial. We can contact anyone around the world, at any time, with just a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse. Be it re-connecting with old friends and acquaintances, making new ones, sharing ideas, content, and pictures or anything of that matter, social media has us covered.
Businesses are using social media to advertise their products, build customer loyalty and many other functions. Interactions and feedback from customers help business to better understand the market and fine-tune their products and strategies. Many firms organize contents and giveaways to enthuse consumers to visit their social website page more often. Compared to television advertisements and other forms of marketing, social media presence is a cheaper and more effective means to enhance brand image and popularity.
Users can stay abreast of the latest global and local developments, and participate in awareness campaigns and activities of their choice in any part of the world. Sites like Facebook, YouTube and others are a cost effective means of spreading the word and gaining support. Furthermore, social media has had a major impact on politics in the recent years. For example: young people around the world are now more involved than ever in their country’s politics. The presidential elections in the US are proof of that. They serve to rally people for a cause and have inspired mass movements and political unrests in many countries. Social websites have contributed to that increase in a big way.
On the other hand, professionals use social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to substantiate and further enhance their career and business credibility. Students can collaborate with their peers to improve their academic proficiency and communication skills.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides of this technology. Like the way it has allowed us to hide behind screens and limited our face-to-face social interaction. Many introverts and socially reclusive users place too much emphasis on virtual interaction. You get the feeling of being social without having to go out and socialize. In the same vein, it gives you the feeling of being a friend (or friends) without having to put any actual effort to build the relationship. Just think of how many people you have on your Facebook friends list. How many of them do you see on a semi-regular basis? Or, at all?
Then we have the issue of how it has taken over our lives. It irks me being out in public and seeing people on their phones. Seeing them talking never bothered me as long as they weren’t being insufferable. Nor does sending off a quick text bug me; maybe they’re meeting someone and telling them where they are. Or something. It is the obvious Facebooking or Instagramming or whatever else that keeps people’s eyes glued to their phone.
Checking social media when people are out doing something, whether it is grocery shopping or getting dinner with friends, shows a serious problem with distraction and addiction in today’s society. We can’t enjoy the world around us for an hour without retreating back into that safe little digital contraption.
Productivity is pretty much shot, thanks to social media as well. Admit it. You scroll down your profiles or find yourself wandering off to YouTube during work hours. Here is a fun little game: every time you get distracted by a social media site, make a little strike on a piece of paper. At the end of the day, count all the strikes and feel your heart drop into your gut as you try to estimate how much time you’ve wasted it represents.
Some of what social media has done isn’t just ‘bad’, it’s flat out ugly. Like the number of relationships that have been broken up over social networks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying social media platforms are to blame for this. They are just a tool that seemingly makes it easier to cheat, or to do things that cross a boundary in a relationship. Like flirty PM’s with that high school crush you haven’t seen since graduation. Or, much more blatant infidelities that are sure to be caught the first time you forget to log out of the computer you share with your spouse.
Then there are the sheer number of stupid, vain people on Facebook. Check out our article on the annoying things annoying people do on Facebook. Yeah, it seems a little mean to point out. But I bet you’re thinking of a least one person who would fit into one (or both) of these categories.
Each status message or post is an outright attention-seeking sob fest, usually vague. Or, way too much information about their struggling relationship with someone they should have dumped six months ago. Let’s not forget the badly spelled, grammatical nightmares that you would need a magic decoder that translated moron into English to read. This same attention-seeking tendency of such people can come to haunt them back. Their revelation of personal information can make them vulnerable to crimes like identity theft, stalking, etc.
What’s more, the growing instances of cyber bullying and online harassment. If you’re not careful, unscrupulous people can target you for cyber bullying and shaming on social sites. Youngsters and women, especially, fall prey to online attacks that can create tension and distress. If you’re a victim, don’t take it lying down, but try to take appropriate legal action against your attacker.
I think that the impact of social media on society has been somewhat balanced, to be honest. There are many good things about it, and many bad things. In the end, if you can keep your own life centered in reality and use social networking as a small part of it, you should be just fine.
For those who can’t, it might be time to go on a little digital detox.