Social Shutdown

 

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What would happen if all social media were to suddenly disappear?

 

Aside from an inevitable degree of anarchy (owing to humanity’s tendency to protest on the back of any significant change) what would happen to us as a people, if social media suddenly no longer existed? Would we become socially paralysed, unable to communicate and organise with an uncompromising expectation of ease that still shocks our grandparents, who thought paper invites the be all and end all of any social arrangement? Or would we immerse ourselves more in physical human contact, emerging from the safety of our screens and learning that the smiley emoji was actually based from our own faces?

 

Ok, so perhaps this is a little extreme. It’s important to start by acknowledging that social media is a wonderful creation, allowing us to make contact with people across the world in an instant, to organise an event spanning thousands of individuals and of course crucially to check out that new person at work your friend fancies. At the same time, however, it’s a dopamine addiction minefield which constantly assaults our attention spans and drains away hours of our days.

 

I recently read a book called The Great Acceleration by Robert Colville, which is a large inspiration for this work and one I would truly recommend. Colville covers a variety of ways in which technology has expanded to affect many aspects of our daily lives, listing both the wondrous potential for the internet and other modern innovations, whilst simultaneously detailing the frightening effects they can have upon our mind, bodies and society as a whole. Despite this, his message is still ultimately that technology is an amazing attribute to humanity, so long as we use it correctly.

So this begs the question both of how much we rely on it, and what would happen if we were to lose a part of it which has become so fundamentally entwined with our lives?

 

I’ve split this article into three main headings: Communication, Self Value and Interests. Under these, the core potential costs and benefits of social media can be seen quite clearly.

 

Communication

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What is usually people’s main justification for spending hours lost within the world behind their small glowing screens is that they are communicating with others. In this respect, social media does truly excel. It allows multiple people to be contacted in an instant, whether that be to ask for help on the latest assignment, catch up on the happenings of friends who may not be available to meet in person, or simply to share a funny video of a dog. It’s a fundamental reason why I have been able to keep close to both family and friends these past few years, despite us being dotted around the country or even the globe.

 

Not only this, social media also offers people with a simple click of a button to invite their entire group of friends or followers to join them in an organised event. Whether this is a birthday party, a quick get together or even a fundraising event for charity, it is without question that social media has become a core means of organising ourselves socially in the physical world.

 

The sweeping arm of social media is indeed such a core part of the modern world’s interactions, that a number of businesses have adapted their advertising to actually use sites such as Facebook and Twitter as a means of recruitment. Although this typically leads to a fearful glance through last Friday night’s photos as a potential deal breaker for a future employer, this has also created a new and easy means of discovering jobs and even applying for them.

 

Should social media disappear, clearly these benefits would be a significant loss. But the internet has boundless means for communication, as do a variety of forms of technology. The loss of social media would not result in a sudden end for widespread communication. Indeed if anything it would offer a means for us to focus upon the individual we are talking to, be that via text message or the confusing formalities of the email. A message could be sent, a call could be made, the user could then return to the physical world and embrace life around them, without the distraction of clickbait titles and a hundred potential conversations.

 

For this is what social media ultimately is: distracting. Be it during work, in your spare time or even an outing with your friends when you are already socialising physically, social media ever begs for attention with a series of dings and notifications. The necessity for new devices such as lock boxes designed to prevent distraction from your smartphone, a truly humorous example of humanities unhealthy addiction, would thankfully be negated. Society could finally regain its focus once more! (Or simply fall prey to another distraction, as is the fickle nature of our minds, but that’s another discussion unto itself).  

 

Another benefit the disappearance of social media would create is a decrease in cyber bullying. Group messaging can be a truly brutal place, especially for teenagers. The social intricacies caused by this new form of communication, with all the strifes and woes caused by an ignored message, or a blunt response, is a minefield for an anxious young mind. Not only this, but it is easier to speak one’s mind from the safety of a keyboard, and for many this often transpires into bullying. Anonymity has always brought greater ease to cruelty, a mask creating a separation from user and action known throughout history. The prospect of tapping away a spiteful message in the secluded comfort of one’s bedroom is a much easier act for many to commit. They don’t have to see the tears their words may bring.

 

Of course, bullying is not an issue for all, and it is by no means here suggested that social media would resolve it. But the wholly intrinsic nature of this new social platform to our modern lives must be considered, for it affects us in ways unknown to any before our generation. This indeed leads on to another aspect which must next be considered: the effects of social media upon self value.

 

Self Value

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I have already written a number of articles considering the effects of social media upon our own ideas of self worth. In short, it boils down to a simple fact. It feels good to get likes, and the more we get, the better we feel about ourselves.

 

Whilst this is quite a sweeping statement, it is true that social media, with it’s ability to allow us to share near every aspect of our lives which others may find interesting, can become a highly addictive form of competition with our peers. We are all guilty of scrolling idly through our newsfeeds, noticing that Sam is having a particularly fun time in Barbados, whilst you are sat behind your desk labouring over a pile of reports. You see a picture of Cassie kissing her boyfriend, and question why you are alone. The list goes on.

 

For many, social media can be both an addiction yet also a depressing drag on life. Whilst you may think that the Sam exampled above was having an amazing time, he may have been secretly loathing his stay there (ok, unlikely in the baking sun for anyone used to rain and cold, but consider it a possibility). Yet he put on his smile, took the photo and in an instant he’s there for all the world to see, enjoying himself immensely. The like’s flood in, jealousy is rife and the bar is raised in the competition of life.

 

In another situation, someone with low self esteem might be posting a dozen photos of themselves a day, relying on the approval and gratification from others to establish their own self worth. For many of her friends on social media she might be considered vain, whilst she is  actually secretly struggling with insecurity. Although it is enjoyable to share our lives with our families and friends, as I’m sure many grandparents would surely agree as they haul a collection of photo albums before you, perhaps it is best this only happens on occasion. With so much information out on the internet, and so readily documented and accessible via our personal profiles, it must also be questioned who is seeing what we post. Yes, your best friend has told you that photo of you in a bikini is ‘stunning’, but perhaps one of the hundreds of friends also witnessing may have darker intentions.  

 

Of course, without social media it is not to say that peacocking would cease to exist. Humanity has always held a clear desire to outdo one another and emphasise our own successes. It’s a fundamental basis for our natural copulation. However, removing such a readily available platform for it would take away an overbearing, and often much overused means of comparing our self worth. We may learn to simply enjoy ourselves in the moment, to appreciate our photographs as personal memories, rather than for their potential for racking up some more followers on instagram.

 

Interests

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As social media takes ever more of our attention and time, so too has it become a key platform for our news, entertainment and special interests. Social media has become filled with a plethora of information, offering news reports on real time events, articles detailing the latest viral trends and even hidden scoops into flash sales at your favourite shopping outlets.

 

For many, social media is now their only source of news and current affairs. With the ability for any to spread information, for example now even in streaming a video live, there has been a significant strain on the media to keep up with such lightning fast expectations of reporting, (once again, Colville’s The Great Acceleration lends significant detail to this, the author being a modern journalist himself). Although this has led to some rather questionable reports, hastily pieced together before the full story emerges, the real time updates and sheer speed of information offered at all times of day by social media is on the whole an amazing feature.  

 

Aside from news, social media also offers a platform for sharing special interests. Entire communities have been bred in the impossible land of the cloud, with thousands or even millions uniting under shared passions, be it in a sport, a celebrity or even a meme (to which I was recently alarmed to hear they now have a degree for…). A simple like and one becomes a member of a group of vast size, all of whom are able to view the same information, sharing and discussing what is interesting to them on an unimaginable scale even a few decades ago. Whilst this has honest benefits for many, construed simply as a means for finding people with similar interests to communicate with, strangers who you would likely never have met in a lifetime, it has unfortunately resulted in rather dramatic consequences of late.

 

It is wonderful that the true fans of some garage band happened upon on YouTube can see others who enjoy them and display their support. It is less so that a hate spreading group can find similar support to fuel an agenda with considerably more ease. The idea of hate spreading, fear mongering and public misdirection is once again one not unknown before the rise of the internet. Indeed, it has often been attributed to certain parts of the media, various pressure groups and even the government throughout history. An unfortunate result of social media has however been to amplify such ideas on a scale that has changed both the nature of politics and the powers of the collective people in a frightening way.

 

We’ve all been told not to trust everything we read. It’s common sense that many stories must simply be exaggerations, fuel for media sales and a larger readership. But when conglomerate newspapers, valued sources of information for the public, begin to appear alongside a hastily edited photo captioning an outlandish and shocking title, it becomes hard to know what to believe. The internet is an expansive source of information, but it is also filled with falsity and misdirection.

 

The results of our reliance on social media for information has been made more than apparent in recent elections, with the surprising results of both Brexit and Donald Trump the clear identifiers of its terrifying power. The people have been given a voice, and they have seen that a lot of others hold similar views. Where a simple uninformed grumbling may have dissipated in the past, in our age it is bred and fueled by a plethora of fake news and misinformation on the internet. Scores of voters, encouraged by hundreds of posts, articles and shares smothering their newsfeeds each day, realised they could vote together, and actually get what they wished.

 

Now, with regards to a pure form of democracy, this does seem to be a good point, and indeed it is, in a number of cases. The rise in online petitions shared over social media has put serious pressure on the government to truly consider its decisions, offering new checks and balances formed from the people en mass. Even recently, a few clicks of my own mouse led to the government passing a law to prevent the hoarding and reselling of concert tickets. However, when fear mongering groups encourage racism, exclusion and place blame on the innocent for voters making decisions of global consequence, the powers of social media as a platform for this must be questioned.

 

So what would happen if social media were to end? The powers of the collective would be severely reduced, the ease to communicate and spread new ideas (for better or worse) would be hit hard. We would return to a time in which information was gleamed by the media alone, when discussion took place physically, rather than in a simple like, share, comment and reply. Perhaps without social media, Britain wouldn’t be discussing Brexit plans, Trump and all his negative attributes would still be a point of mild amusement, with talk of him still attempting to become president remained a light, inconceivable notion to be roasted on Comedy Central.

 

But the fact of the matter is, we simply do not know. Social media has made the communication of ideas much easier, but it would be naive to think this would end without it. Fake articles and misleading news would still be spread, be it by word of mouth or the printed press. The only difference would be that people would have less insight into what others are thinking, without the ease of a simple post of share. In this sense, perhaps all social media has done is allow for the true nature of humanity to show through, encouraged by the support of thousands of others in the simple clicks of likes and shares.

 

The powers of social media for uniting humanity spread beyond politics too, of course. Causes are also given a huge boost, with various charity events spread about by sharing and likes. If we look back to the ice bucket challenge, despite some controversy over the nature of the fundraising, millions was still amassed, a point of which social media is clearly responsible. The spread of information on the environment, from our carbon footprints to the very food we eat, along with advice on how to do our part to help. Helpful pages, numbers to call and groups for discussion over mental health and illness. The list goes on.

 

Social media unites people, in both amazing and terrible ways. To lose it would be to lose a fundamental part of modern society, and cast ourselves back to a level of interaction with the world around us that would consequentially feel incredibly secluded.

 

Conclusion

 

Social media is a powerful part of our lives, an intrinsic means of information, self interests and communication that much of western society has grown to rely and often thrive upon. Without it, we would certainly be taking a considerable step back, closing ourselves once again from its wondrous yet frightening powers. Rather than consider its negatives, we should look to its benefits, and further these to the advantage of society and the future. The age of the internet is still new, and we are all still adapting to the endless possibilities it offers. Above all, it must be remembered that the machine is never at fault, but rather those who operate it.     

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