018_G18_InSight_GlobalSociety

Global_18

Global Insight Information Society How social media has revolutionised our lives in just ten years 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? Mark Hillary 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 Match.com 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 18 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global


Global_18
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