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Social Networking and New Media

June 16, 2011

Social networking and new media enable communication that is pervasive, that may create memes, new language and thought patterns, and that can be used for personal, business and political agendas. An example of just how pervasive social networking has become is Mark Zuckerberg’s creation, Facebook, which is considered the third largest country in the world, according to the biographical Time magazine article. This pervasiveness comes with a price – loss of privacy – dear to some, not so dear to others as noted in the New York Times article, “Contest Winner: Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between Us,” by Caitlin Dewey. About this article on privacy, Katherine wrote, “People are willing to give up their privacy and reveal things about themselves they never would reveal in real life because people have not lost their naïve sense of the internet yet. They still see the security blanket that is the distancing of themselves from real life but fail to understand that sometimes what they write or say over Skype can speak just as loud as actual words can.”


As for the use of online social networks and new media for politics, in the chapter, “Politically Connected,” from the book titled, Connected, by Christakis and Fowler, we learn that in 2008, Obama used online social networks to connect people who were proponents of his election and his proposed policies just as television empowered Kennedy to spread his political message. Decades separate the two campaigns, but both presidential candidates took advantage of available technology to reach the most people in the most effective way. A political meme comes from President Bush (senior) who said, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” People still use that phrase today, many years after it was spoken by Bush on television.


About how messages go viral, Lister says, “Anderson describes certain kinds of net based catchphrases and trends as ‘viral memes’, Internet phenomena that somehow ‘catch on’ in a particular subculture and spread round the world driven by fans’ excitement and pleasure” (200). A meme works on a subconscious level when we reference something without thinking that “it’s a meme,” but we also use memes consciously as an analogy or metaphor. Many events broadcast or published in the media might be popular, but if the popularity is short-lived that event thus does not get used as an analogy/metaphor. It disappears from widespread use.


Today’s memes can spread so much more quickly and further than pre-Internet days and even more so as media companies merge because of the global element of connectedness and social networking. Communication changes as technologies innovate, according to Gleick, “Words are the first units of meaning any language recognizes … As communication evolves, messages in a language can be broken down and composed and transmitted in much smaller sets of symbols: the alphabet; dots and dashes; drumbeats high and low” 74).


The possibility for a new language and ways of thinking to emerge as effects of social networking and new media are discussed in the podcast between Emma, Alan, and Michelle. Alan explains to Emma that she could understand his abbreviated email message because she knew the context of his communication: “My message was clear. What was unclear was the channel of communication. This comes up a lot in [Gleick’s] book — redundancy and why you need it and how much drumming is redundant.”


There has been a progression of communication through symbolic writing, “from pictographic, writing the picture; to ideographic, writing the idea; and then logographic, writing the word” (Gleick 32). How has this progression affected our thought processes, if it has? Are our thoughts now shortened and full of symbols like the text messages we write and read? Do we think LOL or do we visualize laughing? There now exists a generation of people who were born after the Internet became available for the public. This generation is fluent in social-speak, but that does not mean this generation has traditional communication skills based on face-to-face interactions.


It seems as though everyone is communicating through electronic social networks. Gleick writes, the written word, according to McLuhan, “offers only a narrow channel of communication. The channel is linear and even fragmented. By contrast, speech — in the primal case, face-to-face human intercourse, alive with gesture and touch — engages all the senses, not just hearing” (48). Relationships that begin in social networks may or may not survive an IRL meeting. New media, in conjunction with social networking, brings news from one side of the globe to the other. In conclusion, while digital technology pervades our lives – in the way we communicate with one another for social, political, and business purposes – societies around the world integrate its use in their culture.

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