Navigating Web 2.0

Social media is changing the way we live our lives, but to what end?

What did I do before YouTube?

I can barely remember my life before that day in 2005: sitting in a university computer lab, Googling the song For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti by Sufjan Stevens and stumbling across a clip on a video-streaming website I’d never heard of before – YouTube – which was then just months old.

Fast-forward five years and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t watch something on the site.

It’s what I do when I need a break at work. It’s how I learn. It’s how I unwind, relax and amuse myself.

Same thing with Facebook. I can barely remember the days before all the status updates, event invites and time spent observing my 14-year-old cousin become a fan of things like “I redo high fives if they weren’t good enough the first time” and “Mom, I’m hungry. What do you want? Food! What kind of food? GOOD FOOD!!!”

Whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Skype or Wordpress, social media is changing the way we live, and it’s changing it fast.

In an article posted on the social media guide, technology consultant Soren Gordhamer outlines five ways social media is doing this.

1. Where we get our news. More and more, people are turning to their friends on social media as their trusted sources of information. While they still read newspapers and blogs, “our list of sources for what is worthy of our attention has expanded significantly,” Gordhamer writes. We can communicate about the news right away, making news more social than ever.

2. How we start and do business. The fact that it’s easier than ever to start a business is aided by social media, which allows people with little money for advertising to engage customers via Twitter and Facebook to promote their business, Gordhamer writes. It’s also possible now to conduct business with people who aren’t in one’s immediate environment, creating new possibilities for customers and clients. 

3. How we meet and stay in touch with people. While people still meet at clubs, parties or religious institutions, it’s easier than ever to discover people with the same interests as you, even if they are obscure. And with events like Tweetups – a real-world meeting of people who know each other through Twitter – the connections we make online are becoming face-to-face interactions.

4. What we reveal. People used to reveal little about their fears and doubts in an attempt to present the best possible image of themselves. That’s changing with social media, as personal transparency – revealing one’s thoughts and feelings – becomes greater and greater.

5. What we can influence. Some people on Twitter have a million or more followers, while many Facebook pages have hundreds of thousands of fans, Gordhamer points out. It’s no longer just Oprah who can exert significant influence on culture. Most people will never achieve the sort of reach Oprah has, but there’s no denying that the influence of “regular people” is increasing.

Are these trends good or bad? 

The issue, of course, isn’t black and white. Social media can be good – I think of the connections I’ve made or rekindled on Facebook and Twitter that have enriched my life over the past year.

But social media can also be bad – I think of minutes wasted trying to come up with a clever tweet, or more time than I’d like to admit spent creeping on other people’s Facebook pages.

While not always a solo endeavour, navigating Web 2.0 ultimately requires that people set personal boundaries on how much social media to partake in – which might include deciding if and when it’s perhaps best to unplug for at least a little while.

Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)

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