At its Best, a Powerful Force

January 8, 2013
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Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instragram; anybody who is anybody has at least one. In the new era of information, we have taken the encyclopedic and instantly gratifying facets of the internet, and incorporated them into our personal lives through social media. We have at our disposal, the world condensed into a compact portmanteau that we carry along with us at all times, and inside is the technology capable of connecting us to the world and allowing us to socialize on a level unimaginable to most. Pete Cashmore of Mashable Inc. argues that, “Privacy is dead, and social media is holding the smoking gun.” While his opinion holds some truth, it depicts social media in a negative light, only highlighting what some consider to be a negative aspect of the institution. While Cashmore is correct in his assertion that social media is void of privacy, he fails to acknowledge that the social media finds its influence and purpose in being anything but private.
Social media is made up of a community of people looking to be social. The system was not designed for privacy but exactly the opposite. It’s a platform on which people choose, willingly, to share the public and private aspects of their lives. It’s a creation that thrives on news, gossip, opinions, and useless banter provided voluntarily by a populace searching for people who think, talk, and live just as they do. When it comes to the social media, the communities of social networkers don’t have privacy simply because they don’t want it.
While a group of people who are oppressed long for freedom, another group who suffer the consequences of anarchy wants nothing more than structure and order. Every community consists of people who share the same desires and motivations, and the community of social networkers is no different. What contributors to social media desire is not concealment and isolation but transparency and inclusion. They are motivated by the desires to share, comment, respond, and argue whether passionately or uselessly on topics that inspire emotion and debate. The decision to join a social website is rooted in the desire to be social, to be included, and to be relevant. People want to feel like they are a part of something greater, a community where all can be included and all can be considered, and social media does just that.
Social media can arguably be considered the printing press of our day. The Mark Zuckerbergs of our time affected our society the very same way the Johannes Gutenbergs of the past affects theirs. The printing press created imagined communities, formed by people all over Europe who were isolated by borders and indigenous languages but shared similar interest and ideas, and the social media does just that; unites people who share commonalities despite their region, religion, or race.
At its best, the social media is a force, driven by opinion and propelled opposition. Most importantly, it is loud; it is brash and brazen but if taken in any other way would not be nearly as powerful. Capable of inciting revolutions like the Arab Spring, social networking sites have time and time again proven to be engines of revolts, whether social or political. The ability to educate and inform accompanied by the ability to speak and be heard by millions, has aided in movements like Occupy Wall Street and been exploited during presidential election years. By bringing together a larger, more diverse audience, the social media has provided the opportunity to not only form communities but change them. The actions incited as a result of social media have transcended the cyber-world and now are capable of creating actual social and political reform.
While some may argue that social media can have negative implications on people’s personal lives, it is important to acknowledge that everything we share on these sites is a choice. When used as a platform to socialize and share thoughts and opinions, social media can be one of the most influential forces of modern times. However, people more often focus on the social networkers who choose to broadcast every intimate detail of their lives; an action that presents a disadvantage to them and those around them. While this is an important point to be considered, it is also an issue that cannot be controlled. The actions depicted do not describe victims of the social media but members of the community who make the conscious decision to share these personal aspects of their lives.

To add to social media an overcloud of privacy would eliminate its purpose and take away the aspects that gives it its influence. Social media is a place where no matter how useful or useless the information, a community can be formed by people who share the same thoughts and have an inclination to share these thoughts with the world. It is a binding force. It’s a platform upon which the world can shrink for a moment; we are no longer bound by trivial and physical boundaries but have access to a new audience and a new, shared, “stream of consciousness”, as Pete Cashmore would say. In those moments we have the opportunity to educate, inspire, and remind ourselves through sharing, and maybe a bit of oversharing, that as far apart as we maybe in the world and as starkly contrasted as our features make us seem, our lives, struggles, and daily journeys allows us all to be on the same level, and experience life as one community.

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