Through the philosophy of technological determinism, Marx describes how technology shapes history. The way people use and value technology shapes the society they live in. It changes the way people interact with nature, money and people. In his words, “The hand mill gives you the society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”
So what kind of society does social media give us? When you consider social media as a tool of its own, it’s arguably the most widely-used one in the world, with over 800 million active users on Facebook alone. We are living in a new kind of world that consists of people who have physical and virtual lives, and some social media theorists suggest they have merged together to create an augmented reality.
There’s been a lot of popular discussion about the impact that social media has made in society. People freak out about privacy policies. They become addicted to gaming apps and Facebook notifications. Twitter has been used on multiple occassions as the driving force behind uprisings (for better and for worse). But, as far as I can see, academia has yet to jump to the task of evaluating what it all means for our present and future.
It’s obvious that social media is important; it is the new tool that’s shaping the world we live in - but how so? That’s the question I want to explore within the framework of my senior thesis project: the relationship between social media and communities. And to get to the heart of this relationship, I have a whole lot of questions. Here are a few:
- How do Twitter and Facebook change the way we relate to our friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances?
- What is the importance of notifications and digital interaction? (Especially when looking at the impact of the Facebook NewsFeed and the rise of Tumblr as a popular blogging platform.)
- How do changes in science and technology affect what it means to be human? (This one’s taken from the mission statement of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society.)
- Can we put an empirical value on community impact, and why would that be important?
- How do we characterize the feedback loop between producers and consumers in a digital landscape?
- How does social media help communities do what they want to do better?
- How has the Internet redefined the relationship between control and trust to create platforms of digital democracy?
- What is the impact of digital journalism? And does it undermine bureaucratic hierarchies by relying on curation, link backs and crowd-sourced information?
- What changes will capitalism undergo now that mass markets have reformed themselves into fragmented masses of niche markets that can easily be viewed online? And how is this important to the way that consumerism impacts gender, race and SES?
- Does access to more information and more social networks make us more intelligent?
- Is there a new protocol for transparency from big organizations - particularly government?
- Have we reached the end of privacy? And what do we value about privacy in the first place?
This blog started as a means to explore these questions and get feedback from people who are equally passionate about social media. I’m not an expert; I’m an enthusiast. I’m open to constructive criticism and new ideas. Think of this as the open-sourced lit review of my senior thesis.
You can read William S. Shaw’s interpretation of technological determinism here.