Everyone a Director

Is social media essential to society? We know it’s not. Human societies functioned perfectly well before the arrival of Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. It would be more accurate to say that social media has forever changed the ways by which different elements of society interact.

Social platforms have placed the means of global communication into the hands of the masses. There are benefits and risks to this dispersion of power. On the plus side, social media makes it harder for the powerful to silence the weak. Witness the Arab Spring: social media makes it harder to hide information that discomfits those who seek to silence dissent.

Conversely, placing the means of mass communication into the hands of everyone who has Internet access has removed the gatekeeping function that professional editors used to perform. The removal of fact-checkers and clearance processes has resulted in a flood of disinformation, half-truths, and outright lies. Less media savvy members of society are unable to distinguish truth from fakery online. When bogus nonsense carries the same weight as truth in the public square, the very function of society is put at risk. When the members of society can no longer agree that objective facts exist, responsible decision making becomes impossible .

This fact-challenged fog of misinformation is likely to grow thicker as social media broadcasting platforms become more sophisticated. Platforms like Periscope and Snapchat which deliver unfiltered video of breaking events are enticing for their immediacy, yet that same immediacy comes at the cost of framing and perspective. How important is that breaking news video? What does it mean in the greater context of related events? If there’s no one around to create that framing and explain what can’t be seen in the streaming video, how can we know?

How will social media will change in the future? It’s possible that our infatuation with social media is sowing the seeds of its demise. Social media ushered in the age of unbridled self-absorption, non-stop communication, and obliterated the ability to truly be offline. As the current generation of teens and 20-somethings ages and have their own children, their parenting styles may be strongly influenced by the Internet environments in which they grew up. Having seen how the social media distraction apparatus affected them, they may wish to save their own children from the same fate. They might work to restrict 24-hour access to social platforms. They might go out of their way to instill a love of real-life pursuits in their kids.

Alternatively, the next generation may reject the virtual interactions of social media and the constant pressure to post an exciting narrative of their daily lives in favor of real, face-to-face interactions. This rejection of their parent’s social media absorption may happen simply as a contrarian reaction…the same motivator that inspires one generation to differentiate itself from the one that came before. Perhaps they’ll even come to fetishize anonymity and privacy. Being unlocatable on Google will become the new cool. It might become exotic to be unknowable.

But if we’re being honest, it’s more likely that our cultural dependence on social media will deepen. The human compulsion to be in constant contact, to not miss out, to control our image, to heighten our social standing among peers, is too powerful to resist. There will be new platforms. They’ll be more invasive. They’ll be more immersive. These platforms will be designed as the current generation of platforms is: to be as addicting as possible to gain eyeballs for ad time and other forms of monetization. Products like Snapchat’s Spectacles will replace smartphones as the video recording device of choice. Increasingly cheap data storage will make it possible to record every waking moment, editing out the unflattering parts. We’ll all be the directors of our own 24-hour news streams. We just may not have any time left to watch anyone else’s feed.

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