For a long time, many people have viewed social media networking sites as platforms that depersonalize and/or diminish the intimacy of our relationships with those around us. Justifiable as their claims may be, social media networking sites should not be lambasted for what is ultimately linked back to a users’ error. We typically only hear about the negative effects social media have on our society because the advantages come from within platform itself, and it is only when something bad happens that we realize what the platform is actually capable of. What isn’t captured in the news is how social media has empowered the common folk through the ability to generate and share individual content, encouraged participant observation through comments, and created communities of individuals who might otherwise find themselves alone in society.
Facebook, for example, is a platform that was created on the premise that students of a shared environment should be able to connect with one another, no matter how large the space. Today it has become a platform that businesses, social groups, and people of all ages, use to stay/feel connected with society in some manner or another.
A recent article on Mashable.com, details how one man, who after exhausting all other means of communication, looked to Facebook for help in finding his lost cat. Mashable frames this story of an unconventional use of Facebook around the social shaping discourse, stating that it was the co-production between what Facebook had to offer and the man’s last ditch effort to turn to the Facebook community for help that led to his happy ending. James Woodley’s cat had gone missing two days prior, and after going door-to-door and posting flyers had failed, Mr. Woodley decided to not only create a Facebook page for his missing cat, but also by ads that targeted people in his area and pointed them toward his newly created page. He explained that after doing all of this, “it took just 30 minutes for the first tip to come in.” The problem Mr. Woodley faced prior to turning to Facebook for help was the fact that he didn’t have access to that many people, and it was very time consuming to reach out to the people he did have access to. By turning to Facebook, Mr. Woodley’s audience instantly multiplied and his message instantly received. Judith Donath in her article ‘Sociable Media,’ writes on this affordance saying that “the speed at which a medium can convey a message affects the type of information that is exchanged…as communication frequency increases, messages become more informal” (Donath, 3). In Mr. Woodley’s case, Facebook, a real-time medium, that has the ability to reach many people in his area, was exactly what was needed in order to find out more information about his missing cat. The context of his ‘lost cat’ page didn’t matter; he didn’t care about establishing new social ties, it only needed to contain a description of his cat and a way to catch people’s attention.
Mashable’s article articulates how it was the co-production between the real-time medium and his cry for help to the Facebook community that brought Mr. Woodley the information he needed to find his cat. Such an example goes to show the wary social media user that old techniques just aren’t as effective anymore compared to what social media is capable of offering. Though Mr. Woodley underestimated the advantages of social media in everyday life by not turning to Facebook sooner, in a time of distress and despair he was able to subconsciously remember how far a reach social media actually has. As the blurring of the cyber world and reality become more apparent, as was the case for Mr. Woodley when he turned to his cyber world for help with his reality, more and more people will hopefully come to understand the affordances that social medias have to offer in our everyday lives. Nancy Baym in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age touches upon the importance of understanding where the social concerns of social media technologies come from as she writes “in order to connect digital media to social consequences, we need to understand both features of technology and the practices that influence and emerge around technology, including the role of technological rhetoric’s in those practices” (Baym, 48). With any new medium there is going to be fear of its capabilities and confusion about its advantages, but by looking deeper than just the surface people will find that social media technologies allow us to interact with people we have never been able to before and connect on levels that don’t otherwise exist.
Donath, Judith. “Sociable Media.” The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. April 15, 2004.
Baym, Nancy. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. 2010