The Digital Debate

Social Networking: Is it Beneficial to Society?

Think back to 500 years ago. What was the most efficient way of spreading new information across the world? It was through word of mouth. Sure this got the information across to the people who needed to hear it but this wasn’t very practical. The information would have taken days or even weeks to reach across the kingdoms and even then, there was still no definite assurance that the information would make it to another kingdom. Now think about this day and age. How easy is it to send information across the globe? Whereas the spread of information by word of mouth alone could take what seems like ages, in today’s society it only takes mere moments. Through the integration of newer technologies and social media, the distribution of information across the globe seems almost effortless allowing us to quickly respond to new information as opposed to older, unconventional methods.

With every new form of technology that integrates itself into society, the exchange of information is usually affected in some way. For example, when the telephone came into existence, people found that they didn’t need to meet face to face to exchange the latest gossip or the newest events happening in their lives. Instead it was much easier and convenient to just pick up the phone and call someone instead. The same can be said for social networking sites. Whereas before things such as phone calls, e-mails, instant messaging, chat rooms, face to face meetings, as well as several others were the primary means of getting into contact with someone, social networking has become the primary source of contact. Some social networks such as Facebook and Google + have even combined several of these elements together. For example, Google + has an instant messaging system as well as video chatting, voice chatting, and the generalized public posts.

As far as the information that gets spread across the internet goes, it can pertain to anything and most likely everything. Anything from religion to politics, PETA to deer hunters, or even football to soccer can be found on the vast information center that is the internet. Since all this information is out and about on the web, some people such as President Obama have used it as well as social networking to their advantage. President Obama tapped into the social networking resources that he saw available and appealed to the younger generation of voters. These voters age 29 and younger made up an astounding 66% of his votes back in the election of 2008 helping Obama secure his victory. Many believe that if it weren’t for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, he would not have won the election. According to Jesse Comart’s article, “Why Obama Needs Social Media to Win in 2012,” social networks have grown exponentially in the past years. According to this article (which was published in 2011), there were only 100 million Facebook users in 2008 and 800 million in 2011, Twitter only had 8 employees back in 2008 and had 400 in 2011, YouTube averaged only 13 hours of video uploaded per minute in 2008 and in 2011 it averaged 48 hours, and Foursquare didn’t even exist in 2008. The shear increase in numbers is enough to make any politician, business firm, or musician use these outlets to advertise themselves. In fact, in the 2012 elections between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama there were more online advertisements than any year before. As a result, President Obama was re-elected for a second term.

Many people find social networking to be a prime location for acquiring new information about the world. With the rise in popularity of social networking sites over the past few years, more and more people are talking about things that are going on in the world around them. In addition to all the regular people posting their information, media sources such as The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, etc. all have online accounts with several social networks. Having these accounts allows for these media sources to instantly upload the latest in breaking news to billions of people in a matter of moments. This eliminates the media lag that came from just reading the morning paper with the news from the day before or from only catching the news at 9 and 11. This also allows companies to advertise to a vast audience at record speeds and allow for a deeper look into a product’s description than what can be achieved by a billboard or 30 second television commercial. Whereas before they had a limited amount of time to advertise, through the use of social networks they can provide links to websites dedicated exclusively to describing the product in great detail. Musicians also use social networks for several purposes. They can post tour dates, advertise a new shirt or album, provide links to video recordings of their performances, post a preview to a song, or reply to their fans all on the same website. The list of practical uses for social networking can go on for quite some time and these are barely scratching the surface.

Now as far as general marketing goes, it’s becoming easier for companies to get their advertisements to the general public. Seeing as how every major social network now has a mobile application for practically every single cellular operating system under the sun, people can access their social networking accounts from anywhere they can get cellular service. This means that it is no longer required to be connected to a laptop or desktop personal computer to update your life status or check on the thoughts of others. With this in mind, information can be accessed from most places in the world and people can constantly update what is happening around them and even include a picture of where they are or what they see. This in itself is quite the advancement as far as the flow of information goes. The flow in this case almost never has to be broken, because there is a constant connection with this networks that are being updated continuously. Now even though this may seem glamorous to the average person, but consider the negative aspects of this as well. If people are constantly involved with their online lives and the connection is rarely broken, is there any room left to live life? Sure you have to be living in order to update an online account but if that is all that you ever do, what kind of life is that? Also the more you consume yourself in what’s going on everywhere else in the world, the less you pay attention to the people around you and the relationships with the people you care about. Relationships need attention in order to grow and when you don’t give enough attention to a relationship, they will wither and fall apart. Now granted, this is an extreme but it is still something to keep in mind.

Not everything about social networking is a bad thing. In fact, I believe that more good can come from the integration of social networking than harm, but there are always two sides to every story. In the article, “Are social networking sites good for our society?” several pros and cons are listed pertaining to social networking sites and their integration into society. These pros and cons are quite vast about what is considered an advantage or a disadvantage to social networking. Most of the pros consist of staying connected with distant friends or relatives as well as getting into contact with people that have similar interests. Generally speaking, by using social networking, distant relationships are becoming easier to maintain as well as creating newer relationships with people you would normally never get the chance to meet. Other pros or benefits to the social networking scene consist of letting children become more familiar with modern technologies that we use in a daily setting while keeping few safe barriers for the children as well. These restrictions usually appear in the age restrictions required to even create an account with social networks such as MySpace or Facebook.

All these pros might seem glamorous but unfortunately with everything good, there is usually a catch. The article, “Are social networking sites good for our society?” really focuses on some of the dangers that can be brought about by this new venue. Where creating relationships and getting into contact with someone is so much easier on the web, our desire for physical face-to-face conversations and interactions will decrease. This could in turn create social isolation which is not healthy for growth and development. Another important thing that has really started coming about in recent ages is cyber bulling. This is a very real and a very serious danger to a lot of people. When online behind a computer screen, you aren’t always aware of the effect that your words and actions can have on someone else’s life or even your own. Some people will intentionally go out of their way to verbally attack and abuse individuals to get a form of gratification without feeling like there are any consequences for that they are saying. These victims of cyber bullying have been known to develop cases of decreased self-esteem and other symptoms of depression. According to the article, “Social Networking’s Good and Bad Impacts On Kids,” psychologists at California State University found that some health issues that can come from the overuse of certain social networks such as Facebook. They have concluded that daily overuse of Facebook causes some teens to show some narcissistic tendencies causing them to be more aggressive. Other side effects included a higher susceptibility to anxiety and depression as well as causing a drop in grades due to a lower attention span.

Now don’t let all of this negativity deter you from using social networking all together. Most of these are in the instance of an extreme or worst case scenario. Now granted, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in the lives of others and spend far too long on social networking sites, but not every person is like that. Some in fact, are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of spend far too much time on their social networking accounts, some individuals prefer to not use them at all. They would rather not get involved with the newest trend that is social networking. These people definitely have an interesting approach but due to the new cultural normality that is using social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, they are seen as weird, strange or even outcasts. With all the technological advances of today, there is practically no excuse to not have a social networking account other than the fact that you might not want one. This doesn’t hurt anyone or anything, yet they are treated as if they had an extra limb growing out of the side of their face by society. Now, that might be a bit extreme, but you get the idea.

To summarize what all was discussed, social networking has greatly affected the flow of information around the globe and has made it more efficient. With every passing day, these social networks are growing in size and some people or businesses use this to their advantage. Some of these include President Obama who used advertisements on social networking sites to win his 2008 election and larger companies who want to advertise to a large audience. Sources of news and the latest information such as The New York Times have also started using social networking to get information and the latest happenings out to a larger audience in a shorter amount of time. With the newest smartphone apps available for social networking sites, you can always be connected anywhere cellular service is available and have a constant flow of information about what is happening to the world. Now, with all these good aspects of social networking, there is a bad side as well. Overuse of these sites has been known to cause social isolation and signs of depression in some teens. Due to several reasons, some people have just opted out of using social networking sites all together.

Overall, social networking has a lot of good elements to it, but with everything good, something bad has to come from it. Like all good things, it needs to be taken in moderation and not be overused. This can be put into practice by limiting the time you spend on these sites so you don’t spend all day on them. Generally speaking though, since the integration of social networking into society, the flow of information has become much easier and this data can travel across the globe in a matter of seconds. Through all of this, social networking is more beneficial than it is harmful. You may or may not agree with this statement and that is your opinion, but realize that social networking is here to stay, at least for now.

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