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13th February 2009

MySpace, FaceBook, Bebo, Messenger, iChat and Twitter are all part of the social media landscape and are just a few of the elements that more users engage with. The explosion in use of digital media to connect across all corners of the globe certainly enables users to connect with people of similar interests, tastes, hobbies and fetishes across time and space. Yet it also seems that people know each other less intimately in the sense that we connect digitally on the basis of what we have in common. This creates a situation where it is easy to know nothing of other users and “Digital Friendships” can be blocked as easily as added. The change here is that beforehand people were forced to socialised based on geography and common circumstances (jobs and class for instance).

In those circumstances it is harder to disassociate yourself with the people around you than in the digital space. Physical interaction between people forces people to engage whereas with virtual interaction identity is more anonymous.
Just to clarify this is not a moral judgement on which form of interaction is best but an observation that certain things do change as digital technology accelerates.

Social media excels at connection people but only by specialising. By this I mean that people connect via social media not on whether they actually would like/dislike people in an everyday environment but by what they have in common. Be it an interest in stamp collection, technology or music, social media connects because of a shared specialisation between users.

It’s a bit like the way people identify with celebrities. People tend to identify with celebrities even though they have never met them but because they feel they share something or at least can relate to the celebrity in question.
In the case of social media it can be the media it they have in common. Social Media connects people because of Social Media – not because people have a need to connect in this way.  For Social Media “the medium is the message” as postulated by Marshal McLuhan.

“As the society's values, norms and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. We sometimes call these effects "unintended consequences", although "unanticipated consequences" is more accurate. [3] The "unanticipated consequences" work silently to influence the way in which we interact with one another, and with our society at large.[3] These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions [3] that we are not aware of.[…] So the medium through which a person encounters a particular piece of content would have an effect on the individual's understanding of it.” (Marshal McLuhan LINK accessed 13th February 2009)

Social media connects us because that is what it is designed to do. Users connect for the sake of connecting. We all know the friend collectors on Facebook and MySpace where the actual purpose of participating is to collect other users as tokens. There is really no interest in knowing anything about the other user or engaging with other users in general.

The sole purpose of participating is to connect. These users are of course at the extreme end of the spectrum but there is an element of truth to the notion of Social Media as the message in its current incarnation.  


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