Social media: what comes to mind? Hashtags, mentions, likes, comments, and a plethora of other stuff that perhaps encompasses half of the modern day terminology responsible for making the older schemata in societies feel detached and irrelevant (the other half would probably be memes). It’s basically the web that connects us all…and by all, I mean us teenagers. The only other social groups I can think of that make up a fairly large percentage in the demographic of social media outlets are tech-heads and celebrities. Other than that, it’s pretty much teens like me who are the driving force behind these types of businesses. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would’ve noticed that social media has started being a source of concern; a dividing factor, if you will, between teens and the rest of the world. They’re basically our playgrounds now.
Something in me is sure that this wasn’t the vision for what the internet could enable. I won’t dig into the clutter of the situation too much, but the general gist of it is that either we’ve become ironically anti-social as a result of social media, or that we’ve become just plain stupider (and yes, that’s a word, although that still doesn’t sound right to me…anyhow…). It’s easy to point the blame at social media itself, enabling us to do these weird and unproductive things that we were previously unable or caring enough to do, and that bothers me a bit.
I still think that social networks are amazing and are capable of encouraging people to share ideas and opinions on an insightful level, but the reason we aren’t doing that is because we’re busy sharing relatable teen quotes, hipster attires, and oddly, pictures of our food for some reason (it pains me to even attempt at accepting the fact that people still do that, even in restaurants). They’re so ridiculous, it becomes so easy to satirise the norms brought about by social media e.g. selfies, excessive use of hashtags, and duckfaces (funnily enough, it happens often through social media).
Any problems that might exist as a result of social media and how it affects us today can stem from one question: “What?”. Unfortunately, we’re so caught up with asking “How?”, as in “How is this happening?” and “How are people doing this?”. The question is “What?” because the core of the problem is content-based, not platform-based. If it was platform-based, anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account would all end up having duckfaces for profile pictures and a few dozen hashtags in every status update and tweet. It’s to assume that someway, somehow, by agreeing to sign-up to these networks, it’s downhill for our IQ. Why? Just because it’s a social network, like it’s a minefield for our brain cells. Because of what tends to happen on social networks, it’s easy to associate those things with what we expect to occur on them.
That clearly isn’t the case, and I’m not backing that up with research, it should pretty much be common sense. I’m regularly on three social networks: Facebook for chatting, Twitter for news on friends and general stuff, and Instagram for iPhoneography. I certainly don’t want to act self-centered here, but do I look like someone who’s devoted himself to getting more followers? So many people out there want to get more followers for the sake of achieving some degree of popularity on the internet, but the only reason I could think that I would want more followers is to have more people see what I have to say or offer. “Like for like?” and “Follow for follow?” has gotten so big, but it’s not something I do, and that’s a conscious decision.
I think the problem here, again, stemming from asking “What?”, is that the majority of teens just can’t critically think, and then when the hormones hit, they don’t know what to do or assume what they’re doing is right (in other words, taking the easy way out), resulting in the stereotypical depression and rebellion (respectively) that we tend to see in teens. So when teens look at all these pop sensations doing outrageous things (or even the most mundane things), they wholeheartedly invest themselves and defend them when accused with that unjustly abused excuse, “They’re just being themselves!”, with a couple of hashtags here and there, of course.
Naturally, people associate themselves with likeminded people, which is referred to as “social categorisation”, and the same occurs with teens when they find each other on social networks. They eventually develop a little culture between themselves, and there you go. You can commonly see these represented in fandoms, whether that be with books, TV shows, boy bands, whatever, but of course, there are those subconsciously formed groups of the typical selfie-every-five-minutes and slap-on-a-filter-and-you’re-fine subtypes. It’s the same phenomena we see with sports fans, turning into absolute hooligans and using violence to settle disputes as to which of their respective teams are the best. And continuing that connection, it’s wrong to blame the sport for the hostility that goes on, much like how it should go for social networks. These seemingly barbaric fans have become what they’ve become simply because they’ve lost the ability to critically think. Simple.
The solution, I think, should be pretty straightforward. Acknowledging the real problem gets us halfway there, now we just need to educate people about it. We need to spark interest and get people thinking about the world and the issues that occur. There’s a huge variety of things people can be interested in and talk about, and it only takes a glimpse at the news to realise it. That’s one of the reasons I love Twitter, because I can find so much design content and tech news that I can tap into simply by following the right accounts. And quite obviously, this develops our brains to be more aware of the situations around us, as well as the ideas that could shape our world in the future. Also, it just makes you smarter in general.
Not only does this accomplish the mission that I think social media should've in the first place, to connect people and exchange ideas; I think it can go beyond that, causing real-life change in the world that could potentially go down in the history books. We’re seeing that already with different internet-based, non-profit charities, using viral ad campaigns to create buzz on social media. While all that’s amazing and unprecedented in society, I argue that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the change that could occur if the majority of people on social media use it to critically converse, share, and debate about the issues in our world, even spreading in-depth, impactful awareness of those issues that perhaps our collective intellect could solve. Looks like the closest thing to achieving world peace, I think.