The Rise and the Rise of Social Media in the 21st Century

Blog Episode 1

Social media is a twenty-first century phenomenon. It is omnipresent. Ubiquitous.

Leveraging the rise of the internet and faster communication links, social media has evolved over 20 years. Most people point to 1997 when SixDegrees started as the first true embodiment of social media, where members could create profiles and add friends. But in 2001, the crowdsourced encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, made major inroads into worldwide mass online participation in content creation. From then on, new players have entered the game, giving more ways for people to create content, share, critique, network, befriend and even humiliate and eviscerate: MySpace (near-defunct), Flikr, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tinder – to name just a few.

But what is social media? It is a general term for an online collection of channels, allowing individuals and groups to share content, interact and collaborate with others, and engage in social networking (Rouse, 2016).

Over this and two subsequent blog episodes, I will be outlining my thoughts as to the reasons behind the rise of social media and where this is leading us. In this first episode, I will be focusing on personality traits.

The Cult of Personality

Why do we want to post pictures of ourselves doing largely unremarkable things? Eating a meal; walking the dog; spending a night out on the town with friends. And why do we crave for other people we may or may not know to “Like” these pictures (and be so offended if they don’t)?

For some people, there is an inherent need to obtain approval from others (Suval, 2012). Our seeking of approval starts with our parents, and we continue this search throughout our lives – in some, that need is stronger, perhaps due to dysfunctional family relationships. Social media posts become the perfect (quick and easy) outlet to gain this approval (“Likes”). This can even develop into a kind of drug, where gratification can be quickly gained with an appropriate post, Tweet or upload.

For others, photo-based social media posts seem to be an outlet for a form of narcissism (Fyshwick, 2016) – the “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance” (English Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2016). Some people need to see themselves on the World Wide Web. It’s the 21st century equivalent of looking in the mirror and saying “I look amazing today!”, but with the bonus of being able to tell your loyal followers (subscribers) how fabulous you look too.

Social media is also great for those of us who have voyeuristic tendencies. In private, people can “follow” their favourite stars’ lives, waiting expectantly for notification that their star has posted a new outrageous photo on Instagram. Or TMZ has posted a clip of their star exiting a nightclub at 3am in the morning. Immediate gratification – much easier than making your way to the nearest newsagency to pick up the latest gossip mag to view photos from over a week ago.

For some, there is the advantage of anonymity. Hiding behind a cryptic or even not-so-subtle username (the modern-day pseudonym), @Nazi666 can anonymously post his love for Der Fuhrer, troll @TrueJew101 and upload a photo of his dog dressed as an SS officer – all in the space of a few minutes. Whilst this example is not-so-nice, anonymity can also be positively used to provide the shy a place to have their voice heard.

Basically, social media in the 21st century has become the digital meeting place or sounding board for almost anyone and everyone – the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the next episode of my blog, I will be looking at how technology has played a major role in the rise of social media.

References

English Oxford Living Dictionaries, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/narcissism, 2016

Fyshwick, C., “I, narcissist – vanity, social media, and the human condition”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/17/i-narcissist-vanity-social-media-and-the-human-condition, 2016

Suval, L., “What Drives Our Need For Approval?”, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/09/20/what-drives-our-need-for-approval/, 2012

Rouse, M., “Social Media: Definition”, http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/social-media, 2016

Blog Episode 2

One of the biggest drivers for social media uptake and expansion this century has been technological advancement.

My father’s generation still has painful memories of snail-like download speeds on their 56k dial-up modems – not to mention the sound it used to make when connecting – the stuff of nightmares. ADSL, ADSL2+ and NBN broadband connections have made home internet usable for the majority, especially in the developed world. Bandwidth hogs like YouTube would never have survived in the 1990s – no one would be prepared to sit in front of their computer to wait hours for their clip to stream. With the cost per downloadable megabyte having reduced significantly, as well as advancements in data compression algorithms, the average person can now download more, more often.

At the same time, mobile device (phone and tablet) technologies have made great advancements. The “dumb” mobile phone has become the smart phone. Packed with creative apps and device-aware browsers, these phones – combined with the simultaneous development of 3G (2005) and 4G (2011) networks, as well as the rollout of Wi-Fi hotspots – means that social mediaphiles can effectively take their home PCs with them wherever they go. This ubiquity has allowed people to access their favourite social media at home (in any room), in the car, at work, in a coffee shop or when shopping in the city.

Due to attractive, affordable monthly plans, heavy social media users – young people (Sensis, 2016) – have ready access to this mobile technology and large download limits. This has played a major role in the growth of social media, as it is no longer limited to the “upwardly mobile” demographic and those with financial advantage. Across all demographics, mobile phone subscriber penetration in Australia has gone from 16.5 million people in 2005 (82% of the population) to 31 million in 2015 (138%) (MobileMuster, 2016).

Utilising fit-for-purpose infrastructure, mobile devices have been put into the hands of nearly every Australian. Coupled with fixed technology in the home and at work, this has enabled us to be active social media participants in the 21st century.

In the next episode of my blog, I will be looking at the benefits and costs of social media.

References

Sensis, “Sensis Social Media Report 2016: How Australian people and businesses are using social media”, https://www.sensis.com.au/asset/PDFdirectory/Sensis_Social_Media_Report_2016.PDF, 2016

MobileMuster, “Australia’s Mobile Decade: 10 years of consumer insights into mobile use and recycling 2005-2015”, http://www.mobilemuster.com.au/media/107666/australia_s_mobile_decade.pdf, 2016

moeenxplod, “Dial Up Internet Sound (Funny)”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG1AQcGGSec, 2008

Blog Episode 3

Who have been the winners and losers from the rise of social media? The two biggest winners have been the social media companies themselves and advertisers. But I think the biggest losers are yet to be determined.

Companies have seen their net worth grow massively. In 2015, Facebook was valued at $200 billion; Instagram at $35 billion; Twitter at $23 billion (Alex, 2015). Advertisers have stood up and taken notice of the sheer volume of users (read: prospects/targets) that they can potentially reach.

Facebook’s model relies on advertising as its primary source of revenue. They provide advertisers invaluable data that allows highly targeted or customised advertising – demographic data is therefore like gold to Facebook and its advertising clientele. With the slow death of traditional media such as free-to-air TV and newspapers, advertisers have had to look to social media to find an audience for their ads – but, advertisers have had to modify their marketing campaigns: the social media generation is not prepared to sit through the stereotypical TV advertisement (lest they want viewers to click the “You may skip ad in 5s” button). Advertisers have very limited time to pique their target’s interests, so need to make high impact ads (variations from their “standard” TV ads) – or even resort to viral marketing campaigns, such as Old Spice Man Responses that had the marketer upload 185 YouTube videos in two days, in response to questions posted via numerous social media outlets (Carter, 2013).

But it isn’t just companies that have benefited. Individuals have also been able to profit from social media. Many have set up their own YouTube channels to flaunt their skills or products – gaining enough subscribers to earn payments and garner sponsors (which they in turn promote).

But profit isn’t everything. Reinforcing what I said in Episode 1 of my blog, individuals are able to get their own personal satisfaction from just using social media in its basic form – to network, to share, to be involved. People no longer have to feel alone, as somewhere in the world will be someone with similar interests or beliefs as themselves. Social media has been at the forefront of globalisation and breaking down barriers: you start to realise that people with different nationalities, religious beliefs, races or sex have the same interests as you – so we are only different at the most superficial level.

Have there been any costs of the rise of social media? Lovers of the English language may say that spelling and grammar have gone out the window. Fitting meaning into 140 character Tweets or into a 160 character SMS means grammatical compromises are guaranteed; and people have become lazy spellers, with many teens and young adults unable to spell correctly. Non-English speaking countries have their own fears for their local language, as English has become the “language of the internet” (Zazulak, 2015). At the same time though, perhaps the English language is being enriched, with many new words entering the vernacular – such as the word “selfie” becoming the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year in 2013 (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016).

It can also be argued that social skills have deteriorated. We have all heard stories of people texting each other at the dining table. And so many people these days use apps like Tinder to meet people, rather than go to the pub or nightclub. The traditional media may highlight online bullying, but it is probably more the case that bullying has switched forms when moving from the playground to the internet.

Wrapping it all up

Social media is the perfect medium for those of us with personality “issues” to thrive (see Blog Episode 1). Leveraging technology (Episode 2), individuals and organisations can profit – and not just financially (Episode 3). Whilst the English language may have suffered a few hits, the final chapter of social media is yet to be written. One day, someone will write a blog (or whatever they will use in the future) to document the Rise and Fall of Social Media in the 21st Century.

References

Alex, “How Much Are Social Networks Really Worth?”, http://wersm.com/how-much-are-social-networks-really-worth/, 2015

Carter, C., “15 Viral Marketing Examples Over the Past 5 Years”, http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/social-media-examples/15-viral-marketing-examples-campaigns-past-5-years/, 2013

Oxford Dictionaries, “The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013”, http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/press-releases/oxford-dictionaries-word-of-the-year-2013/, 2016

Zazulak, S., “English: the language of the internet”, https://www.english.com/blog/english-language-internet, 2015

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One thought on “The Rise and the Rise of Social Media in the 21st Century

  1. I personally agree with much of what was said in blog episode 1 where you talk about our constant need for approval and how social media posts is the best way to collect and gauge the approval of others on oneself. Also anonymity is a good way for people lacking in confidence to post what they actually feel, but as you mention it can lead to unfiltered, unaccepted views on society from certain people who feel like they have gained a new found shield to hide behind while saying sensitive or insulting things directed at others. The technological advances have seen the accessibility of social media rise significantly obviously and main reason for the incredible intake of social media is how easy it is to access it as you mention in blog episode part 2. In blog episode part 3 I agree with you that advertisers and social media companies themselves are biggest winners but a suggestion on the losers are maybe the people who consume social media. People who run social media can greatly influence your opinion on certain subjects by showing you only what you want to see instead of something that may challenge you. This could lead to an age of the uninformed if people don’t go out of their way to find information outside of social media regarding any hotly contested subject.

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