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The Global Scale Of The Internet

2012-12-05


Revolutions in the fields of information technology, communications, and media have altered, and continue to alter the ways in which human’s process, transmit, and ultimately understand the world in which they live. The goal of these revolutions, from the advent of the Greek alphabet to the growth of our current Information Age, has been to bypass the technologies that have come before them. Although these developments themselves can be considered great innovations, it is the ways in which these technologies are used that determines their value. For example the World Wide Web, as one of the most influential technological advancements of the twentieth-century, would be obsolete save for the crucial purposes it serves. The web’s ability, on one level, to democratize information by giving society the ability to upload, store, and share information on a global scale is one of these crucial purposes. Although certain “politics” of the web are still in play, essentially anyone can share their thoughts, opinions, contestations, etc. on this mega-platform known as the Internet – whether or not someone else reads it is another story. The web has the potential to undermine the often-partisan feature of print and even broadcast media as information-sharing mediums. The open-forum aspect of the Internet, the ability to communicate on multiple levels, is what makes it so revolutionary. There is a reason why communities without running water have access to wireless networks. Most importantly, the Internet has the capacity to connect people, and this is one of its most crucial and cultivated features. For this reason I would argue that the greatest advancement not only of the web, but also in the information and communications technology industry as a whole, has been the emergence of Social Networking.

From the days of MySpace to the current era of Facebook, web-based social networking has proven to be a strong force within the wired world. It has brought to the forefront the connectivity of the Internet. Millions of users around the globe are a member of one social network or another, whether it be an e-mail provider, instant messaging, twitter, LinkedIn, the ever-popular Facebook, even online-dating sites, and the list goes on. What is it that is drawing these hordes of people? In “Understanding Users of Social Networks” Harvard professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski offers some insight to this burning question. One of they key features of online social networks that Piskorski draws attention to is the idea that they combat the failures of offline social networks (Silverthorne). What exactly does this mean? Essentially, users of online social networks find value in the extra capabilities that are afforded them through these digital communities. The ability to keep track of what your friends, relatives, and even strangers are up to plays into the nature of human curiosity, and can be largely attributed to the extraordinary success of social networking sites. Facebook is arguably the number one social network of our time, allowing its users the ability to connect with others, share interests, write statuses, post pictures, tag pictures, join groups, plan events, and probably most importantly, remember birthdays. We have become an online society of voyeurs (Silverthorne). These sites have created a new kind of sociability. Writing on a friend’s wall, sending them an inbox message, or instant messaging them has taken precedence over older forms off communication such as calling or hand-written notes. When online social media was still in its early stages, this was an area of contestation. It was thought that people would spend more time building digital relationships rather than tangible ones. Personally, I disagree with this perception. I have actually been able to cultivate and grow certain relationships purely because of social networking. I’ve been able to keep in contact with people that I would have otherwise completely lost touch with. Additionally, social networking has helped my face-to-face relations through its ability to coordinate conversations and events between multitudes of people. Thus instead of overtaking in-person encounters, social media encourages them and makes them, in my opinion, a whole lot easier to execute. Still, these online communities are not picture perfect. Today, possibly the biggest stigma attached to social networking is the issue of privacy.

This widely publicized question of privacy – or lack thereof – associated with online social network sites has definitely raised a couple of red flags among users. Higher privacy settings and a certain degree of cautiousness when putting personal information online have been a couple consequences of this issue. However, even with these past and present problems, they have not stopped people from interacting on social networks. The whole concept of privacy has been redefined and CEO of Mashable probably said it best; “Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun” (Bard). One of the main reasons social networking continues to thrive, according to Piskorski, is because people love to look at pictures, and in particular, pictures of others (Silverthorne). When it comes to social media, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words. The ability to browse through someone’s profile to look at pictures without notice has this online society hooked. Pictures are probably the primary way to communicate what you have been up to and to also keep tabs on what others have been up to as well. It’s a wonder to think how something as personal as looking through another’s photos of their weekend trip, wedding, or newborn child has become a daily and naturalized activity. Herein lies one of the great powers of social networks, and these sites show no signs of slowing down.

As mentioned at the start of this essay, one of the main reasons for technological development is that the new device, program, or product, will improve on the one(s) that came prior to it. It is clear that social media is no different. Again, these sites address the social insufficiencies of the offline world (Silverthorne). Somehow by offering users 140 characters of less to express themselves abates the gaps in communication present in offline life. There is a reason why Facebook has over one billion monthly visits, MySpace topping eight million, Twitter with 54 million visits, and LinkedIn holding steady at around 43 million (McCarthy). These numbers are huge, and will only continue to grow. For these reasons, this network of social media websites has been the greatest advancements in the information and communications technology industry within the past ten years, and could quite possibly sill be at the top of their game within the next ten. I look forward to the innovations that the future holds!