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Agile Computing: Article

Does Social Media Reflect Society?

Social media has changed society in many ways

You are what you eat; You become what you believe; I am not my art.  A 2011 study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Psychology titled "Manifestations of Personality in Online Social Networks: Self-Reported Facebook-Related Behaviors and Observable Profile Information" found that Facebook users are no different online than they are offline.

The study also declared a strong connection between someone’s real personality and their Facebook-related behavior. Social and personality processes, according to the study, accurately mirror non-virtual environments.  It was published in the academic journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Professor Samuel D. Gosling and his team looked at the big five personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism and found that self-reported personality traits are accurately reflected in online social networks such as Facebook.  Extroverted users reported the most friends and the highest engagement while conscientious types had the least.  Simply, extroverts engaged more than introverts.

Merriam-Webster defines society in part as, companionship or association with one’s fellows : a voluntary association of individuals for common ends : an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession : an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another : a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests.

Social media has changed society in many ways.  We used to just live in a society – our neighborhood, town, city – and (hopefully) looked out for each other, cared for each other and got together for specific causes. This is our community.  The human social creature needed human contact/interaction and participated within that society…but the circle was somewhat limited to a geographic region.  Granted, some societies are nationwide clubs, groups, memberships or associations that span greater distances – Toastmasters, Kiwanis or college alumni for instance. 

Now, our circle of friends or association with one’s fellows requires no physical gathering.  We live in our physical geographic society but also engage in our cyber communities that span cities, states, countries and with SETI, universes.  Years ago I often wondered if the internet would create a society of hermits since no one really needed to go outside and interact with others in the real world.  But we are social creatures and our survival requires us to participate in a non-cyber way.  Of course there are people that do not want anything to do with society and live in secluded locations to avoid any human interaction.  Most of us, however, like it or not, must interact in society on a daily basis.

Often our social cyber-interaction is in response to events in the physical society.  We use social media as a way to report, learn and engage with those who are experiencing anything from turmoil to joy in their physical society. World events.  Even the Occupiers, who have used social media to great extent, still came together physically – within their geographic circle(s) – to form their mini-societies.  In some situations, social media has been the only avenue for ‘breaking’ news getting out to the masses.  (Incidentally, it seems like every story on news websites is ‘breaking’ these days – it seems to have lost it’s power)

Breaking Bad, on the other hand, is a darn good show.

In societies we often share – information, goods, ideas, secrets – for the benefit of the society.  Many of us have heard the warnings from security experts about keeping passwords a secret.  Now, as a form of affection and devotion, teens are sharing their passwords to email, social networks and other accounts.  Since it is risky and relationships can quickly sour via social media, they feel that the symbolism is powerful.  Apparently, the world’s first divorce by Facebook occurred back in 2009 and more recently Deion Sanders announced his divorce on Facebook this past December.  In addition, a survey conducted by UK divorce website > in December 2009 found that 20% of behavior petitions contained the word “Facebook.” A follow up survey in December 2011 found that number has greatly increased during 2011 to 33% of behavior allegations in petitions.

Even the crooks are involved.  We’ve seen the stories about hijacked accounts, malware distribution and the ever popular, ‘I’m stuck in some foreign country, lost my wallet and need to pay the hotel’ scam.  I’m amazed that just a decade ago, security experts warned that you shouldn’t say, ‘We’re not home right now,’ on your answering machine.  That tells riff-raff that the property is ripe for the pickings.  Yet, just a few years later people are posting that they are over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house some 300 miles away.  Their coordinates are available, their home town and sometimes a picture of the actual empty home are posted on the social network.  And then they wonder how they could have been burglarized.  It’s has also caught/captured the idiot criminals who feel the need to share their misdeeds.  In some cases, we share too much and don’t even realize that we’re diminishing our own privacy.  And, of course, there are some who can’t get enough exposure with 24 hour cams following their every move.

Social networks have become one of our society’s primary tools for communication and as a society it is important to communicate effectively.  I’ve always felt that the internet, particularly the web, was a reflection of society.  It’s chronicled, reflected and magnified our lives along with automatically storing and archiving almost every move we make.  People have fallen in love, ordered goods, started movements, spread rumors, gotten arrested/fired/dumped, done banking, filed complaints/kudos, kept in touch, tracked progress, committed crimes, shared ideas and pretty much anything else that didn’t require physical contact.  It’s our journal, reminder, mirror, confidant and has certainly wiggled it’s way into and become part of society.  A community within our society.  But remember, What Happens on the Internet, Stays on the Internet.


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