How social media has revolutionised our lives in just ten years

Mark Hillary

In just a decade, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have put the personal lives, photo albums and CVs of many ordinary people online. But has this change been all for the good?

In February this year, the social network Facebook turned ten years old. Created at Harvard University by Mark Zuckerberg, the network was only ever intended to connect college classmates, but once Facebook was opened to everyone it started to redefine how we communicate. 

It is easy to make a case for both the good and bad sides of social communication. The general trend has been towards a more open and transparent form of communication between people, companies, celebrities and our elected leaders. On the surface this ease of communication should only be a good thing, but as we enter the second decade of social media it is clear that some behavioural changes have not been positive. 

Children can bully each other remotely now, no longer needing to confine abuse to school. The news agenda is often driven by a desire to create content that is easily shareable or that drives clicks – a celebrity photographed shopping in a supermarket is now a valid ‘story’ for many previously high-brow publications, with no apparent editorial justification for the story to be published. 

The list of issues could go on, but policy-makers and governments have no interest in celebrity gossip – except perhaps in the Élysée Palace. More importantly, how will social media really change our world beyond facilitating the easy sharing of kitten videos? 

I believe that we are now entering what I would call the Social Society. It is a world in which every aspect of our life is influenced, and often controlled by, social communication. The change in human behaviour we are about to witness will be compared to what we saw two decades ago when the World Wide Web first became available to the average non-technical user in 1994. 

But to argue that ‘everything’ will change makes this concept too nebulous to grasp and describe. To illustrate the point, consider the impact of social media on these six areas of modern life. 

Sex and relationships

The anonymity of the internet allows everyone to look for their perfect date without the embarrassment of talking to strangers in bars. The online dating service estimates that more than 40 million single Americans are actively seeking a partner using an online service. Online dating is no longer a geeky way to meet a partner; it is the way many people meet a life partner today. 

However, this anonymity also allows for niche desires to be satisfied without embarrassment. The Ashley Madison dating service allows married people to discreetly find a lover, its slogan is: “Life is short. Have an affair.” Gay dating service Grindr allows men to see other men seeking sex in real-time on a map using their smart phone – you can literally seek out a short-term partner while waiting for a train. With social communication and location awareness, sex has been turned into nothing more than an entertaining pastime. 


The newspaper business is not just in decline because too few customers will pay a subscription when most news is available free. The news itself is changing to support the sharing economy. When was the last time you read a detailed analysis of a story giving both sides of the argument? News has become partisan, click-friendly and just another piece of the entertainment market. 

Musicians no longer have a market for recorded music, meaning they must revert to the ancient model of travelling minstrels. The movie business has relied on post-box office DVD sales to support new blockbusters – a market that is about to vanish. 


If your organisation had access to the personal details of over a billion people, their age, gender, likes, dislikes, career history and approximate information on income then wouldn’t you start offering financial services based on actuarial products? Surely it is just the issue of global regulation that has prevented Facebook from doing this already, but if it cannot exist within the current system then why not create an entirely new global currency that more than half of the connected world would accept in the same way as dollars or pounds? The creators of Bitcoin have shown that it is possible. 


The popular actor and comedian Russell Brand touched a political nerve in 2013 when he encouraged his fans to not bother voting because he considers that the entire political system is broken. Politicians across the world within the conventional system are using social tools to directly engage with their electorate, yet this improved form of communication may not be enough if today’s youth decide that five years is an impossibly long period of time between elections. 

The direct democracy of Switzerland already allows the public to put any new law to a public vote, though it requires one per cent of the electorate to request the vote. Direct democratic methods such as this can be easily applied to a socially connected form of parliament today and the people know it because they see votes being used for TV shows, yet their leaders never use a voting mechanism to ask their opinion on new laws. 

Any government that believes it can blunder on without introducing far more access to direct democracy for the people could be staring a revolution in the face. 


I got my master’s degree from the University of Liverpool using an online classroom in 2005, when I was in a job that took me all over the world. I could actively participate in classes and made many long-lasting friendships with people I rarely met in person. Almost a decade later, things have moved on even further – the Open University’s courses feature an online lecture system that allows remote participants to clap when they enjoyed a lecture and virtually raise a hand when they want to ask a question. These interactive elements are very popular with students. 

More people in more countries across the world want an education and the use of social tools is building an infrastructure around the learning experience that is far better than the online learning of a decade ago. People today can experience higher education at reputable institutions far away from where they live, and they can make genuine connections and friendships without ever visiting a redbrick campus. 


Children at school today are in training for jobs that don’t even exist. Global job networks like oDesk are allowing skilled individuals to sell their services to the world and outsourcing has become a strategy of choice in the boardroom. Many young graduates now find the competition for work so intense that they need to intern for several years just to gain the experience needed to get a paid position. The world of work has vastly changed from the days when a good degree automatically led to a good job and this is largely because of the ability of those hiring to find good people easily from anywhere. Communication about work has created more opportunity for those who are prepared to move in search of work, but has intensified competition for those who expect a job to be located close to their home town. 

Social media and networking remains a young communication medium. Blogging has only really existed since the turn of the millennium and the popular social networks in use today were all created in the middle of the last decade. 

I have listed various social changes that I believe are being affected by social communication and there are policy and leadership questions in all these areas of our lives, from how we choose our leaders to how we educate the young. The leaders of today need to do more than register an account on Twitter if they want to understand how social media is really going to change the world of tomorrow. 


About the author:

Mark Hillary is a British writer and blogger based in São Paulo, Brazil. He has published ten books about the information society and globalisation. His forthcoming book will explore the phenomenon of political and corporate leaders subcontracting their social media personas to ghostwriters


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