But if social media is all around us, what exactly is it?
Social media is media for the people, by the people. It provides new opportunities to create and communicate ideas with people around the globe. It takes the emphasis away from big organizations and places it in the hands of the masses.
Social media emphasizes the human need for social interaction and provides a universal outlet for communication. Said communication can be accomplished through blogging sites such as blogger.com, livejournal.com, xanga.com and typepad.com. With these sites, individuals can create their own profile with which they can blog about their opinions, experiences and interests. A blog is a sort of Internet-based journal, in which the users update and post entries on a regular basis.
“I think social networking is great. There is something nice about being connected with people who aren’t physically in front of you at the time. I have to say, sites such as Facebook and Myspace have truly created ways for people to stay connected, get reacquainted, as well as meet new people,” Sophomore Communication Studies Major Chris Duhaime said.
A micro-blog is just like a blog, but on a smaller scale. Websites like Twitter and Tumblr are two examples of micro-blogs. Twitter, in its broadest definition, is a website that allows users to post updates much like Facebook statuses.
I think Twitter is great. There is something completely unique about it. I also like Twitter because it limits people to 140 characters. This means that a tweet will never be longer than 140 characters so messages are short, sweet and to the point. No crap to weed through. I think this site offers a lot in terms of communicating with the world on what they are thinking,” Duhaime said.
Not everyone is on the Twitter boat, though. “Twitter is probably the worst concept ever, and I’m not quite narcissistic enough to believe people really care what I’m doing every minute of every day. I’ll leave that to Chad Ochocinco,” Junior Political Science Major Hassie Samaraweera said.
Other students agree with Samaraweera. “I will never ever understand Twitter. Are people that egotistic that they believe that meaningful or even remotely interesting things can be said in 140 characters?” Sophomore Physics Major Dan Enright said.
Social media not only provides a place for individuals to voice their opinion, but it is also a way to share the opinions of others. Websites such as Digg.com, delicious.com and the StumbleUpon application make it possible for users to discover and rate web pages, photos and videos. The personalized recommendation engines make use of peer and social networking standards.
“StumbleUpon is just another procrastination tool for me. One that is informative and fun. My favorite topics are photography, cats, music, clothing and cats. What to do with unwanted vinyl, projects, crafts—all of these things keep me entertained when other things should be getting done,” Junior English Major Karina McQuarrie said.
Other students agreed. “[It’s] is completely customizable. It takes me to corners of the Internet I would never otherwise experience and only to sites that pertain to my interests,” Enright said.
Other social networking sites such as Myspace or Facebook allow for more than the sharing of one’s thoughts. They combine social interaction with status updates, notes, applications, chatting and personal message sending.
“As promising as Facebook is for connecting people, quickly disseminating information and serving as a vehicle for social change, it also has significant issues in how it is employed. The degree of navel gazing it inspires is shocking. … The time spent on social networking gazing at our own navels and the navels of others talking about the innocuous details of our lives could be spent more productively keeping informed about the world and engaging in deliberative discourse with our real neighbors,” Chair of the Communication Studies Department Leila Brammer said.
Many social networking sites serve as a way for people to enhance their “personal brands”. Personal branding is a way in which people associate themselves with certain brands, products, ideas, lifestyles, bands and stereotypes.
“In social networking sites, we attempt to ‘brand’ ourselves for those we actually interact with on a daily basis and those we virtually wish to interact with. But as we ‘brand’ ourselves, others also ‘brand’ us. … We lose some of the control. In real life, I can choose to dress and look a certain way, and you can choose to accept or reject the look. In the digital world of social networking, I can really choose to dress and look a certain way, but your rejection or acceptance is much more public,” Brammer said.
Even though social media seems unavoidable, some are able to resist the temptation.
Samaraweera doesn’t have a Facebook. “I realize I’d become an addict. Not to mention pictures of myself with little to no clothing, ones of me sleeping with a life size bear and others of me dressed as [a] Powerpuff Girl never need to be seen by my future employer,” Samaraweera said. “I sometimes feel like my life has no meaning [without one], but other than that there’s no problem. Honestly I will admit it would help to stay in contact with those friends [who] don’t live around here, but anybody I really care enough about I can always call.”
It seems as though social media, though designed to help us better connect with one another, might be doing more harm than good.
“For some, their social worth is measured via ‘friends’ or followers rather than real live human beings who are their real neighbors. Social networking is another step away from our communities in which we actually live. Television moved us more inside, so we had less contact with neighbors. Video games, the Internet and other technology moved us further away. Social networking is interesting in that it can connect us with ‘friends’ in China while disconnect us further from the people who live down the hall or across the backyard,” Brammer said.
Whether it’s helpful or harmful in the long run, social media has secured quite a hold on the ways in which we communicate with one another—and it seems as though it is here to stay.