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Social media has been an enormously disruptive influence on traditional media and the way we communicate with others each day. But have you ever thought about the influence of technology on social media? With each new emerging technology – everything from smartphones to virtual reality – we are seeing a transformation of social media itself.
New conceptions of “social” created by technology
What does it mean, for example, to be “social” in a virtual world? For that matter, is it even possible to be “social” without a true face-to-face or one-to-one interaction? And, yet, most people think nothing of the fact that new technologies coming soon – such as full-immersion VR experiences where you can choose your own avatar to represent you – are going to make it possible to communicate with people around the world using fictional identities.
New ways of thinking about time
Technology has also fundamentally changed notions of time in social media. For example, faster Internet connections and nearly ubiquitous mobile connectivity means that there is absolutely no reason why you can’t respond to any message, sent from anywhere in the world, within a matter of minutes. In fact, in today’s world, it’s considered rude if you don’t respond to a text message immediately. Now contrast that to the norm just a generation ago, when clunky Internet connections (anyone remember dial-up?) and desktop computers made it impractical to communicate with anyone when you weren’t at home or in the office.
Now, however, the divide between personal and professional life is no more. Going on vacation? Expect to bring along some work with you. Just because you are away from the office doesn’t mean that clients, co-workers and bosses can’t barrage you with messages and emails. No wonder so many people now dream of going “off the grid” – there seems to be almost no place left where you can plausibly deny that you received a message.
New ways of thinking about geography
Moreover, technology is breaking down our notions of geography. At one time, the only way that you could have a “social conversation” with another person is if the two of you were in the exact same geographic location. But no longer. First came Skype and all the video teleconferencing tools. Then came Slack and Facetime. Now just about every social media platform has a way of going “live” with a video feed. There’s absolutely no reason why a person in Bangalore, Maine and a person in Bangalore, India can’t have a nice mid-morning chat – and not even think twice about the type of incredible technology required to make this happen. It all happens instantaneously, almost as if the two of you were co-located side-by-side.
Remember what Arthur C. Clarke once said about technology? His brilliant observation was that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And that is where we are today – it’s almost as if every piece of hardware or software that we use is imbued with magic. You can now wave your mobile phone and make a payment for an item in a store. With a few clicks, you can get the answer to any question you might have. And, every single time you open up an app like Facebook, you are able to peer into the deepest and most personal moments of your best friends (some of whom you’ve probably never met in real life!). Make no mistake about it, technology continues to have a profound impact on social media.