By Alexandra V. Maragha
Participating in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook can allow one to be connected to a vast source of information and sources. It is a personalized experienced where you control who and what you receive and interact with. But when you go to look at the actual messages that you are receiving, how many are directly aimed at you? And for that matter, how many messages are you directly sending out to actual people?
One of the challenges of social media interactions is that it has in itself challenged social behavior, structure, and interactions. From changing the references and meaning behind “liking” something, to “posting” a “tweet” or 140 characters limited message to the “public” comprised of a live and archived meta-face facsimile of a community bound by mutual participation and interest, social media has defined a generation and a time period.
Communications and English scholar and philosopher Marshall McLuhan studied communication phenomena’s and in the late 1960s produced Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, encapsulating communicative and mass communicative theories based on a premise that “The Medium Is the Message”. McLuhan proposed that the medium of a light bulb served as an extension of sight, and the human eye, allowing one to see when the light from the light bulb illuminates a dark room. Another example is that a shovel serves as an extension of the human hand, allowing one to penetrate the ground with greater ease.
These examples, while proving to be progressive developments in technological advancements, can support the thought that social media and the internet have become an extension of physical mobility in that one does not have to travel a distance to communicate with another and now, is able to speak face to face.
While the number of “followers” or “friends” and even “subscribers” one holds may indicate a level of ‘connectedness’ to social constructs by being able to fall within specific groups and communities, it may not be telling of the actual connections that one holds.
Through the fast-paced medium that social networks have become, the value of a connection in how it is translated within the medium could be examined more closely. Out of all of the sources that one is connected with, how many of those contacts are actual connections where mutual and frequent exchanges take place? What is the percentage of contacts that you actually message or chat with if you see them online simultaneously?
Based on McLuhan’s thoughts, the hypothesis could be posed that social media is leading social interactions away from social connections and redefining social structures to be no more than staying connected with others.
Likewise, while social media surpasses physical constructs allowing people to connect with no geographical boundaries, has it at the same time created a virtual bubble of interaction or “safe zone” where those who are connected would otherwise have nothing of substance or relevance to discuss in a face to face physical setting?
As the shift of language and mediums influence the messages that are sent, it is also important to always consider and aim to uphold, in specific desired contexts (personal or professional), actual connections in order to be a more effective communicator, rather than just staying connected few and far between.