Are We a Utopia Or Dystopia in This World of Social Media and Technology?

If you’re even reading this blog, chances are, you know how to navigate and are fairly familiar with social media. Also if you’re reading this blog, chances are, you have an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. The reason for this is that today, social media usage is higher than it has ever been. In a YouTube video called “#Socialnomics 2014 by Erik Qualman” that I was shown in lecture, I learned some whopping statistics relating to social media usage. Some things I learned were: 93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media, 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, and 53% of millennials would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology. If you just raised your eyebrows slightly, we’re on the same page. Just from these examples, it is evident how powerful social media is and can be. Through my blog, I will demonstrate the power of social media through the analysis of four scholarly sources. This “power” that I am referring to is the impact that social media can have on a user. If you are like me and are a relatively active social media user, you probably view social media in general as beneficial to you, your needs and your desires. This impression is more than valid because from both mine and your perspectives, you being the relatively active social media user like me, sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. provide entertainment as well as many other affordances that are beneficial and enjoyable. If taken advantage of positively and used in the right ways, social media sites can and do provide many positive affordances to users. These affordances include communication, connectivity, the ability to network professionally, the ability to maintain, form, and enhance relationships, and many more. However, at the other extreme, social media usage, in many ways, can have numerous negative effects on users. Some of these negative effects are being subjected to cyber bullying, being blinded by body image standards set by the media and in turn, having one’s self-esteem be lowered, and paradoxically disconnecting oneself from those around him by overusing social media sites to the extreme. Social media having the power to disconnect a user is a paradox because more than anything, social media sites aim to connect people with each other. However, in cases where users engage with social media sites so unbelievably frequently, many have actually become more disconnected from the people in their lives than ever before. Through the rest of my blogs, I will analyze a variety of sources that portray both the positive and the negative effects social media. In addition to just focusing on social media, I will be focusing on the broader effects of the internet as a whole. If it weren’t for all of the technology that goes into building the internet, social media would not even exist. So through analysis of both sources introduced in class and outside sources, I will discuss the positive and negative effects of both social media and the internet as a whole on society.

Bibliography:

Erik Qualman. “#Socialnomics 2014 by Erik Qualman.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 16 April 2014. Web.

If you’re in high school or college — or frankly, any social medialite — you have probably heard the words loneliness and social media in the same sentence. Not only that, but if you haven’t discussed the connection of these two terms before, it is probably something that has crossed your mind. Well, it’s definitely something that has crossed the minds of many psychologists. In the article, Loneliness and Social Uses of the Internet, authors Janet Morahan-Martin and Phyllis Schumacher dig deep into the types of people who are using social media sites and how social media, if it is, causing loneliness. In order to assess internet use, behaviors and feelings of loneliness, surveys were given to college students at UCLA and the results were recorded. After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that there are in fact significant differences in both the intentions and the ways that lonely and non-lonely people use social media sites. Interestingly, this suggests that it is possible that our perceptions are skewed — the internet is not causing an increase in users’ feelings of loneliness, but rather lonely people are more drawn to the internet and social media sites. This “chicken or egg causality dilemma” makes it difficult to assess which of these really comes first. Sherry Turkle, in her book titled Alone Together, addresses social media and loneliness more holistically and ultimately proposes that it goes both ways: lonely people are attracted to social media and social media increases people’s feelings of loneliness. Turkle takes a considerably dark stance on social media and its influence on modern day society. As can be explained by the title of her book, her main argument regarding social media is this paradox of the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. I’ll be completely honest, I most certainly epitomize the teenager who physically endangers herself on a daily basis from not looking up from her phone. I send and receive hundreds of texts a day and cannot go five minutes without checking Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. This generation of “connectivity”, Turkle argues, is everything but connected because by sinking ourselves in our phones, we’re really just cutting ourselves off from everybody around us. And for many, this is has resulted in an extreme increase in feelings of loneliness. We may be engaging with our Facebook “friends” — which I use quotations for because that girl from high school that I can’t stand, for example, and I are “friends” on Facebook, but most definitely not friends — by liking and commenting on their pictures, but is that interaction really more valuable and defining of our social lives than face-to-face communication? Our generation is distracted; people’s physical presence does not ensure their mental presence. And so this idea that social media encourages interaction is extremely paradoxical for many users, and that Morahan-Martin and Schumacher and Turkle definitely agree on.

Bibliography:

  1. Morahan-Martin, Janet, and Phyllis Schumacher. “Loneliness and Social Uses of the Internet ☆.” Loneliness and Social Uses of the Internet. N.p., Nov. 2003. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.Blog 3:
  2. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.

In my previous blogs I have focused on the positive and negative effects of social media. Today, however, internet usage connotes more than just social media usage. In more technological terms, the internet exists because of the algorithms that built it. So in this blog I am going to discuss the significance of these “algorithms”. What does this term even mean, you might ask? An algorithm refers to a set of calculations or some other sort of problem-solving operation performed by a computer. The reason I am bringing up and defining this term is because frankly, these unimaginably sophisticated algorithms are slowly but surely taking over the world. You might be reading this and thinking to yourselves, “Is this girl crazy…how can a computer code take over the world?” So that is why I will turn my attention to Jaron Lanier and his article titled You Are Not a Gadget. In this piece, Lanier expresses his utter contempt for the growing reliance on robots in modern day society. Some may call Lanier an extremist while others may call him a realist, but what he argues is undoubtedly informative and definitely has real-life implications. What Lanier argues is that human beings are losing their self-esteem as people and putting too much trust in robots. He fears this idea of singularity: the idea that algorithms, robots and technology in general will take over and replace the human self. Digital people are not worthy of empathy and they’re especially not worthy of replacing human minds! In a super interesting article in The New York Times titled A Plan in Case Robots Take the Jobs: Give Everyone a Paycheck, Farhad Manjoo, both wisely and wittily, offers reasons as to why in just a few decades, we will become the “Robotic States of America” — clever, no? Manjoo discusses the idea that in almost every job there is, a computer is involved. Humans turn to digital tools for just about everything and although it might not seem likely right now, before we know it, these computers will be able to function on their own and not even need us to run them. For a long time, people have been worrying that jobs will become less readily available. Recently, many are finally starting to believe it is a reality. Computer intelligence is going too far and is surpassing human intelligence. What Lanier, in You Are Not a Gadget, and Manjoo very strongly agree on is the irony behind technologists. Both economists and technologists have been grappling with the fear of robots taking over, yet the technologists themselves are the ones who are building these algorithms. If we are not going to stop the development of technology as a means of putting faith in humanity, then we need to prepare for our future as the “Robotic States of America” and what that is going to entail.

Bibliography:

  1. Lanier, Jaron. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.
  2. Manjoo, Farhad. “A Plan In Case Robots Take the Jobs: Give Everyone a Paycheck.” The New York Times 2 Mar. 2016: n. pag. Print.

With the constant developments being made in the world of technology, the influence that social media and sophisticated algorithms are having on modern day society is only continuing to grow. Until now, I have discussed the effects of social media and of algorithms as two separate entities. However, I would be foolish to not connect these two categories because without algorithms, there would be no such thing as social media to begin with. Algorithm is code — think of it as the organisms that make up the world of technology. In the same way that these algorithms or codes are able to create, they are also able to regulate. Laurence Lessig, in chapter one “code is law” and chapter seven “what things regulate”, connects the two ideas as he discusses algorithms and their ability to regulate cyberspace. Lessig writes about the questions we face regarding regulating cyberspace. “Will cyberspace promise privacy or access? Will it enable a free culture or a permission culture? Will it preserve a space for free speech?” (7). He compares this regulation of the internet to that of the government, and asks how we could guarantee that this regulator is powerful enough without being too powerful. In chapter seven, Lessig writes about the specific regulations, or constraints — he calls them, that algorithms can achieve. These four modalities: law, norms, market, and architecture, each regulate behavior within cyberspace in a distinctive way. Let’s backtrack for a second. You’re probably reading this and wondering what I’m talking about when I say “regulate cyberspace” — what does that mean? So now I’ll ask you a question. Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook newsfeed before and noticed the section that says “recommended for you”? Have you ever wondered how creepy it is that that *insert item here* that you were literally just looking at online and debating whether you should buy just magically appeared on your newsfeed along with items similar to it? In the article, Who Controls Your Facebook Feed, Will Oremus reveals the truth behind this wonder. To no surprise, this “recommended for you” section on your newsfeed is made possible by none other than algorithms themselves. The geniuses behind Facebook have devised a unique algorithm that is able to predict whether you will enjoy a certain post. Through tons of sorting and coding, Facebook chooses a special few from thousands of pages to “recommend to you”, in the hopes that you will like, share or comment on that page. This is one way in which algorithms can regulate social media and limit the things you see without you even knowing it.

Bibliography:

  1. Lessig, Lawrence. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic, 1999. Print.
  2. Oremus, Will. “Who Really Controls What You See in Your Facebook Feed — and Why They Keep Changing It.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

Fear the algorithm. Fear the algorithm because its superhuman sophistication is able to accomplish way more than just frame your Facebook newsfeed around your searches and interests. After reading the article What’s Even Creepier Than Target Guessing You’re Pregnant? by Jordan Ellenberg, I cannot help but contemplate the fact that Target, from the power of algorithms, may know more about their shoppers’ lives than the shoppers’ own parents. In the article, Ellenberg writes about the guest marketing analysis team at Target that, based on the purchasing history of one if its customers, was able to correctly infer that a teenage girl was pregnant. “Target started sending her coupons for baby gear, much to the consternation of her father, who, with his puny human inferential power, was still in the dark.” The fact that a store has the power to figure out that a customer is pregnant, and then goes ahead to send that customer products, is in my eyes absolutely absurd. While it is pretty fascinating that codes have the ability to identify such private information, where do we draw the line? How powerful are algorithms going to become? Technologists are only continuing to develop codes only for these codes to surpass the creators themselves. The article, If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know? by Shelley Podolny, discusses the growing demand for algorithms and natural language generators. It has been estimated that by the mid 2020’s, up to 90% of news can be algorithmically generated. The article provides two examples of sports news pieces and asks the reader to identify which was written by a human and which by a code. Podolny follows up, saying, “if you can’t tell which was written by a human, you’re not alone”. Soon enough, software is going to replace humans all over the internet — weather in fantasy football or in reviews of your next pair of sneakers. The term “human” — what does it even mean? We drive cars with navigation systems that speak to us and we give commands to our appliances. Now there are automatic cars that can drive themselves…who knows what’s going to be next? In this world of constant technological advancements, it can be scary to think about the extent of computer intelligence. We, as the human race, need to have faith in our own abilities and take control in regulating algorithms, instead of having them regulate us. You know what they say — everything in moderation, right?

Bibliography:

  1. Ellenberg, Jordan. “What’s Even Creepier Than Target Guessing That You’re Pregnant?” Slate Magazine. N.p., 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
  2. Podolny, Shelley. “If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.