Observing Thinking

Observing Thinking
Observing Thinking

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jan 8, 2012 Pros and Cons of Social Media: Part Two

 “A recent study by the online security firm AVG found that 92 percent of children under 2 in the United States have some kind of online presence, whether a tagged photo, sonogram image or Facebook page. Life, it seems, begins not at birth but with online conception. And a child’s name is the link to that permanent record.” --- Allen Salkin, New York Times, Nov 27, 2011

"One particular advantage of social media is that they help a reporter see the intellectual and social network of a source. For example, in Twitter I can see whom you are following and who is following you. I can see what you have re-tweeted and what links you have selected. Therefore, I can understand more fully your social context." -- Jerry Zurek, professor of English and communication department chair at Cabrini College

Are the above quotes arguments for or against social media?  Here is some more information to help you make up your mind:
“Twitter was so important to the Iranian protests after the Iranian presidential election in June 2009 that the US State Department asked Twitter to delay a scheduled network upgrade that would have taken the website offline at a busy time of day in Iran. Twitter complied and rescheduled the downtime to 1:30 am Tehran time.
Proponents of social networking sites argue that these online communities promote increased communication with friends and family, familiarize people with valuable computer skills, and allow contact with people from around the world.

Opponents argue that social networking sites expose children to predators, increase vulnerability to computer viruses, lower worker productivity, and promote narcissism and short attention spans.” (source: http://socialnetworking.procon.org/)
If you follow the above link to the procon website, you will find over 1300 more words devoted to the pros and cons of social networking websites --- much too many to reproduce here. But, if you were to ask me, I would say the strongest and most general arguments pro and con are:
Pro: Social Media contribute the happiness of both the individual and society.
Con: Social Media contribute to the unhappiness of both the individual and society.
Of course, our next problem would be to define more precisely what we mean by “happiness”. I am happy when I am afforded the pleasure of being able to turn over and get a couple more hours of sleep --- but that’s just me. Someone else may be happy in knocking over little kids blocks or tormenting their cat. And even if we could all agree on a common definition of “happiness” --- how would we go about measuring it?

 Sociolgists have bravely taken on a huge problem when thay attempt to make statements about human beings, especially regarding measurement of our satisfaction or happiness. There are so many variables that can quantitatively describe a person that it is currently not possible to run truly controlled studies by keeping all the variables except one constant and measuring the effects of varying the one of interest. Granted there are some powerful statistical techniques which allow polls or samples of an appropriate size to ascertain how a certain variable (like intelligence or happiness) is expressed when a social network is applied. But most statistically-based studies are run under the assumption that there is a one in twenty chance the outcomes are a result of random chance and not the result of application of a social network. The math can be improved to one in one hundred and so on,  but never achieve full certainty, and to be fair, this is true of all experimental science.
We just need to be mindful that the mathematical theory that underlies inferential statistics is based upon the study of uncertainty.
Addendum: My editor, Lois Clermont, commented that my previous column had implied “ that print has only one-way communication, when actually the Press-Republican, for example, has robust two-way communication through our online story comments and Facebook.” She is cerainly correct in pointing out that we've already moved on to a sort of hybrid print-internet model.

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