Observing Thinking

Observing Thinking
Observing Thinking

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 15, 2011 Social Media: Part One

Last month I attempted to rebut the view that texting was morally objectionable. This time I want to present a more balanced analysis and discuss the issue more broadly. The broader issue subsumes texting and is generally referred to as Social Networks or Social Media. There is much to say about the effects of social media on society and vice-versa. In fact, so much that it will not fit into one column. So, rather than omit every other word, I’ve decided to deliver this column in two installments.

What exactly is meant by the term “social media”? We might already know that media is the plural of medium and that we are probably talking about media like print (e.g. books, magazines and newspapers), tv , radio and the Internet. Further, the media must somehow facilitate social interaction.

I find that classifying social media into the two categories: “One-Way” vs “Two-Way” communication is a useful way to understand social media. For example, print, tv and radio are One-Way communication media because their content is broadcast to us from a single source and we usually cannot interact with it (except very slowly as for Speakout and the Letters to the Editor).

On the other hand, Two-Way communication allows us to respond via the medium to its content which may be represented by text, sound, or images. Examples include telephone and the Internet and within the medium of the Internet we have email, blogs and chat. Two-Way allows many-to-many connections while One-Way allows only one-to-many connections and is perceived as less useful in the world of social media.

“What about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ ?” --- you may well ask. All of these are quintessential social networking sites that are a mashup of email, blogs, and chat(not to mention video games and advertisements) that allow many-to-many communication. However, as my granddaughter has pointed out to me, “Twitter is like Facebook except you update your status every few minutes rather than every few days…” She uses Facebook regularly and Twitter not at all. She is also thirteen going on twenty-five so if she is representative of the upcoming generation it would be wise to see the future through her eyes.

Blogs I would rate as 1.5-Way and Letters to the Editor as 1.25-Way because the factors which determine a medium’s place between 1 and 2-way communication are the quantity and the speed of information.

None of the aforementioned media exist to make a society neither flourish or even to entertain. These may be the side effects but the main goal is simply to make money for their owners or stockholders. If they cannot do that one thing, they perish.

To make matters even more complicated, “media” has a different, more specific meaning in the world of computers where it refers to memory hardware for data storage and retrieval. Thus, computer media examples would be hard drives, memory sticks, CDs and DVDs.”

On a much deeper and philosophical level, Marshall McLuhan back in the sixties proclaimed that “The Medium is the Message” and although today we tend to call the “message” the “content”, the gist of what he meant was that the medium has a greater effect on society than the message itself. Again, from Wikipedia:

“McLuhan understood "medium" in a broad sense. He identified the light bulb as a clear demonstration of the concept of “the medium is the message”. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence."

And, from another source: (http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/article_mediumisthemessage.htm)

“McLuhan defines medium for us as well. Right at the beginning of Understanding Media, he tells us that a medium is "any extension of ourselves." Classically, he suggests that a hammer extends our arm and that the wheel extends our legs and feet. Each enables us to do more than our bodies could do on their own. Similarly, the medium of language extends our thoughts from within our mind out to others. “

In the next column we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of social media.

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