We’re Objects of Social Media, Whether We Know It or Not

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.
Sites such as YouTube, Instagram, and Vine are great ways to pass the time, but are they controlling us at the same time?

by: Ryan Waldis

Advancements in technology over the past several decades have led to many innovations, the most important of which arguably being that of social media. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit give everyone, for better or worse, a voice. Whereas before you had to be a credible journalist to publish your thoughts on the internet, now you can spend five minutes creating a WordPress website and write a piece regarding your thoughts on why Donald Trump is the perfect choice to lead this country, or vice versa. With all of the positives surrounding social media (and even digital media in general), it might be hard to comprehend the negatives that come along with services such as Reddit or YouTube.

While some might not want to admit it, we as a society are objects of social media. Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey (among others) easily control us through not so subtle means. There are exceptions, but social media has led to many individuals being told what to think. Surprisingly, there are people that seem content with being told what to think; for example, they’ll read one article on a news agency’s website and assume that it’s 100 percent factual without doing any further research. Actions such as the one in the preceding example have never been more prevalent than they are right now.

There are a plethora of examples that can show why people have recently become objects of social media, but I’ll only be discussing four. Along with a discussion on the fake news epidemic, three readings from the Goshgarian text will be discussed and expanded upon.

 

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Satirical fake news sites such as The Onion used to be comedic. In this “post-truth” age, however, many people seem to have difficulties differentiating between real and fake news.

The Fake News Conundrum 

 

There was a recent New York Times piece regarding not only the obvious problems with fake news (spoiler: it’s not real), but the undesired outcomes of it as well. The author, Sabrina Tavernise, mentions the story involving the North Carolina man firing his gun inside of a Washington pizzeria due to a fake news story detailing a Hillary Clinton-led child abuse ring inside said establishment. While instances of believing fake news typically aren’t this extreme–most people wouldn’t go as far as shooting a gun in an occupied building because of a false story–Tavernise explains that the influx of fake news could potentially lead to a larger problem.

According to Tavernise, experts say,

“Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.”

Essentially, this creates a large quagmire. Now, people who browse their Facebook feeds each morning don’t know what and what not to believe. News that seems real might eventually turn out to be fake, and news that is reported as fake might end up being true. If the fake news issue isn’t solved in the near future, both journalists, politicians, and television show co-hosts will seemingly be able to say whatever they want without the risk of getting fired for constantly throwing out inaccurate statements (not that some don’t do this already, but that’s beside the point). The “fun-house” effect that some have started using to describe the downfalls of fake news will only get worse if a treatment option is not created.

Michael Lynch, a philosophy professor at the University of Connecticut, claims,

“There are an alarming number of people who tend to be credulous and form beliefs based on the latest thing they’ve read, but that’s not the wider problem. The wider problem is fake news has the effect of getting people not to believe real things.”

This is a valid claim and, if we’re being honest, a valid fear. It’s tough to imagine living in a world where we’d be apt to downplay an article posted on a credible website just because we aren’t sure what’s fake and what’s real, but that’s the path we as a society are headed down if we can’t figure out how to cure the fake news epidemic.

Texting > Talking

Session Number: 25

Author/Source: Exploring the Language of Visuals

Page Number: 251

Personal Beliefs

I decided to connect the corresponding journal question to the fundamental question of this assignment because I feel that texting is a perfect example of social (and digital) media controlling us.

Texting can be applied to so many different social media sites. It’s not necessarily sending a message to someone’s phone number; you can send private messages on almost any social media service. Shockingly, there are individuals (typically from my generation) that will use texting as a way of communicating even if the person they are communicating with is right next to them.

texting1
Is this the new norm?

Take for example the image in the Goshgarian text, which showcases two females standing directly next to each other. The first female exclaims, “Hey Olivia. I like your hoodie!” through a text, while the second female responds, “Thanks Nic! Ready to go to lunch?” also through a text (255). Keep this in mind: these two females could just as easily communicate face-to-face, but for whatever reason choose to communicate through texting.

The rise in texting instead of communicating through talking is clearly a disadvantage to our social networking efforts. In my opinion, we’ve reached a point where many teenagers are inept at communicating face-to-face, and rely on texting or instant messaging to voice their opinions and express their thoughts. Allow me to use a personal example, if I can be afforded the opportunity to do so.

Over a year ago, I interviewed for a job at a local store. I had to go through both a phone interview as well as an in-person interview. I had gone through one interview roughly two years prior, so it wasn’t as if I was very experienced when it comes to job interviews. However, I was eventually hired by the company, so I suppose my answers were solid. The interviews to me didn’t seem very challenging and, if we’re being honest, I wasn’t fully confident in the answers I had provided. It wasn’t until about a month later when one of the men who interviewed me said something along the lines of, “We interviewed 12 people and you were one of the two we selected.” When I asked why they chose me, he responded that “my interview answers stood out from the rest of the applicants.”

Now, I thought he was just being kind, but some time later one of my friends applied to the same company, and his application was denied. He didn’t reach the in-person interview and, while talking to him on the phone, said that he didn’t really know how to answer some of the questions he was asked. My theory is that my generation’s reliance on texting and instant messaging on sites such as Facebook and Twitter contributed to his (and many others like him) struggles. If there are people who can’t excel in a job interview due to social media messaging and texting, how can we expect them to effectively network with other individuals?

Forbes Article Discussion

Below are some interesting quotes and statistics from a recent Forbes article titled “Why Millennials Are Texting More And Talking Less”

  • When JPMorgan Chase offered to eliminate employee voicemail, about 65 percent took the offer. The elimination will supposedly save the company roughly $3 million per year.
  • The main reason why voicemail was eliminated for almost three-quarters of the company? According to author Neil Howe, “Executives say that the decision is overdue, pointing out that most workers–particularly those under 40–have long relied on e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, or social media to reach others on the job and in their daily lives.”
  • An interesting Howe quote: “Over the past decade, these technologies have ushered in a new era of communication…prompting concerns that the timbre of our voices will soon be drowned out by the click-clack of keyboards.”
  • Per the article, a 2014 Gallup Poll showed the text messaging was the primary form of communication for millennials. The statistics (including older Nielsen data):
    • 68% of 18-29 year olds say they texted “a lot” the previous day.
    • 47% of 30-49 year olds say they texted “a lot” the previous day.
    • 26% of 50-64 year olds say they texted “a lot” the previous day.
    • For 18-34 year olds, voice minutes “plummeted” from roughly 1,200 in 2008 to 900 in 2010.
    • For 18-24 year olds, the amount of texts they sent soared during this same time period, increasing from 600 to over 1,400.
  • Some companies have had to hire consultants just to make Millennial employees become more comfortable on the phone.

Time Article Discussion

As with the Forbes article, here are some notable tidbits from a 2012 Time piece titled “We Never Talk Anymore: The Problem with Text Messaging.”

  • The author, Jeffrey Kluger, utilized research from developmental psychologists, and the content was thought-provoking.
  • The aforementioned researchers, “worry especially about young people, not just because kids are such promiscuous users of the technology, but because their interpersonal skills–such as they are–have not yet fully formed.”
  • Sherry Turkle of MIT mentioned, “I talk to kids and they describe their fear of conversation. An 18-year-old I interviewed recently said, ‘Someday, but certainly not now, I want to learn to have a conversation.”

Waste of Time

Session Number: 24

Author/Source: Naughton

Page Number: 473

Personal Beliefs

The corresponding journal question, as with the one above, connects perfectly to the main question we’re trying to answer, which is why I selected Naughton’s reading.

This is potentially the best argument when it comes to debating whether we are subjects of social media or objects of it. Take a look at the image below.

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We might think that we are in control of our digital and social media habits, but more often than not our devices, our social media accounts, and more are controlling/performing us. Naughton references a Nicholas Carr piece in his article, where the latter states,

“…I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, being looking for something else to do” (474).

Forgetting the fact that, statistically, our attention spans are getting shorter, so many members of my generation seem to have trouble finishing a task without checking social media at least once. It’s understandable to need a couple of breaks, especially when constructing, say, a ten-plus paragraph essay on a Shakespeare work. Still, I know there are some people who will work on an assignment (for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume it’s an essay) like this:

  • Create heading and title
  • Check social media
  • Write first sentence
  • Check social media
  • Finish introductory paragraph
  • Check social media

The process above then continues paragraph-by-paragraph until the assignment is done. It’s hard to argue that we are subjects of social media when using that logic.

Using another personal story, I used to be glued to social media. I’d check it multiple times while working on a school assignment, while at work, and even while I was with friends. However, there were two homework assignments over the past year that taught me that looking at social media 24/7 isn’t a necessity. The assignments entailed not looking at any type of social or digital media for a specified amount of time (the first assignment was an hour or two, the second assignment was a couple of days).

Before the previously mentioned assignments, my productivity and efficiency when it came to homework was not very high. Now, though, I’ve literally seen my productivity and efficiency improve. Not that I didn’t necessarily know this before, but I “learned” that social media would still be there in an hour or two, and that it wasn’t dire that I check it right this second.

Digital Trends Discussion

As with before, here are some interesting tidbits from a Lulu Chang article titled “Americans Spend An Alarming Amount of Time Checking Social Media on Their Phones”

  • According to research from Informate Mobile Intelligence, “people in the U.S. check their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts a staggering 17 times a day, meaning at least once every waking hour, if not more.”
  • The U.S. was not the top nation in social media network use, but they were the leader in time spent on phones
  • Per the report, “smartphone users in Thailand, Argentina, Mayalysia, Qatar, Mexico, and South Africa checked these networking apps at least 40 times a day.”
  • On average, Americans spend 4.7 hours on our phones; as Chang points out, “Considering that the average American is awake for just over 15 hours a day, this means we spend approximately a third of our time on our phones.”

CNN Discussion

Now, let’s look at Kelly Wallace’s 2015 CNN article titled “Teens spend a ‘mind-boggling’ 9 hours a day using media, report says.

  • Some 13 year olds have been documented checking social media 100 times a day.
  • Wallace explains, “That’s more time than teens typically spend sleeping, and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers. And the nine hours does not include time spent using media at school or for homework.”
  • The response of the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, Jame Steyer, correlates to the fundamental question we’re trying to solve: “…it’s shaping every aspect of their life. They spend far more time with media technology than any other thing in their life. This is the dominant intermediary in their life.”

Living in the Moment (or not)

Session Number: 26

Author/Source: Dickerson

Page Number: 255

Personal Beliefs

I’ve never really been able to come to a concrete answer regarding the debate of “living in the moment vs. capturing the moment on your phone.” As Dickerson argues, “This is a false choice. You can live in the moment and capture it” (256). I partially agree with Dickerson’s claim. It’s okay to take a lot of pictures at a Phillies game, for instance, but viewing an entire concert through your phone seems like a big exception.

Some days, I’ll be of the belief that capturing an event on your phone is acceptable, simply so you can look at the experience several years later. Other days, I’ll  remember this photo, taken not so long ago.

senior-woman-living-in-moment-no-smartphone-celebrities-movie-premiere-black-mass-2

There is only one person in the above photo not using a phone to capture the event, and it’s pretty easy to spot her. Now, in all fairness (and without trying to offend someone), perhaps someone like the woman in the photo has no use capturing an event on the phone she may or may not have. However, she is clearly enjoying herself, and she’ll have a vivid depiction of the event in her mind for a while. It should be noted that, while the older generation tends to not capture events on their phones, there are members of the younger generation that do the same thing, opting to simply take in everything around them.

Having said that, the emergence of Facebook Live, Periscope, and even YouTube has led many people to “go live” for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps you’re at a concert and you want everyone to see how “lit” it is. Maybe you’re at a baseball game, and you want to show your fans the final out of a Game 7 and what it’s like in the stadium. Maybe you just want to show your friends what Thanksgiving or Christmas is like at your house.

Whatever the reason, live streaming services like those mentioned above are yet another example of how we’ve become objects of social media, not subjects. Many people are so prone to go live even if they aren’t doing anything of interest simply because they can. The issue could be debated, but I personally don’t see that as a good outcome of social media.

New York Times Discussion

To close out non-Goshgarian sources, let’s examine a 2014 article written by Jenna Wortham titled “Trying to Live in the Moment (and Not on the Phone).

  • Wortham references a Kent State University study that found that, “students who were heavy cellphone users tended to report higher anxiety levels and dissatisfaction with life than their peers who used their phones less often.”
  • The author also references a separate study conducted at the University of Worcester which, “found a correlation between stress levels and an endless barrage of alerts and notifications.”
  • A programmer in Pittsburgh by the name of Keven Holesh created an app called Moment that tracked how much time you spent looking at your screen. The results:
    • After installing Moment, Holesh said, “users spend 25 minutes less on their phone per day than before: an average of 71 minutes on their phone overall and mostly in the evening after 6.”
  • One of my favorite quotes I came across during my research is from Michael Harris, the author of The End of Absence. He said, “The point is that you can’t escape it; you can only try to see it clearly for what it is.”

In closing, it’s fair to say that we are objects of social media, not subjects of it. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, social media (and digital media in general) controls us. Social media can blatantly tell us what to think and how to think, without any fight from some members of our society. It also shouldn’t be argued that our reliance on social media gives us a severe disadvantage when it comes to social networking efforts. We as a society have the ability to reverse this trend, but it would be shocking if that occurred in the next couple of years. It will take some time, but at some point in the not too distant future, it’s definitely possible for us to become subjects of social media instead of remaining objects.

 

 

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