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Social Media Communities - What's the Benefit?

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Social media Communities

In the modern world, we can update our Facebook status as we walk to the coffee shop, post a tweet on the subway to work or get the latest news without even turning on our televisions. My generation is so fast-paced that we have come to rely on our laptops, cellphones and tablets to balance our professional and social lives. This dependency on technology has redefined the millenials, and many people are speaking out against this kind of lifestyle.

TIME Magazine’s Joel Stein published an article in May titled “The Me Generation.” He states, “I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies!”[i] This is nothing new – “studies” that pathologize the struggles of youth and invalidate young people’s successes, inducing fear of the future. When people look to point fingers, social media receives most of the blame because they host a majority of our photos and modes of communication. Rather than waste time deleting Facebook and blogs, only to return to them, we need to reframe the questions we’re asking ourselves. Instead of, “Should I delete my Facebook?” we should ask, “What is there beyond Facebook? What can I build through these websites?” It is important that we work as individuals and as communities to empower one another in the realities of the physical world and cyberspace.

I’m in my mid-twenties and immersed in various forms of social media. I confess that I get caught up in the habit of “liking” things and “following” blogs. Like anything we consume as humans, I believe social media websites are safer in moderation. Most media attention tends to focus on the dangers of technology, spurred by the vague and perpetual fear of the unknown. We are told to fear technology-related maladies, like internet addiction and personality disorders due to the large amount of time spent in front of our laptops.

Social media

I do not doubt that our modern lifestyles are altering how our brains function, how we remember things and how we observe the world. Our shrunken attention spans, hunched posture, preoccupation with self-image, and feelings of isolation are real concerns we all have to consider. Still, what did older generations expect when they sat us in front of a computer for the first time? Before the internet, it was video games, and before video games it was the television – technological advances come with positives and negatives. The only difference is that social media isn’t one-sided like video games or televisions; we can call and others can respond.

As someone who has worked in the service industry for eight years, I’ve met people working three jobs, racking up a total of sixty hours a week to pay the bills. These are often college-educated young people working to pay off their student loans and live independently. Social media has provided a means of communicating with people at the click of a mouse or tap of a screen. I think social media is what you make of it, and young people recognize this and see it as fertile ground for improvements.

Possibly the most noticeable change about the cyber-environment is the number of organizers and activists who are building online communities. As an activist, I am always looking into online organizing. People from marginalized communities have created innovative online forums to share their experiences and stories. These websites provide safe (or safer) spaces for people who cannot always be so honest or outspoken in their immediate physical space. Although there are plenty of people who abuse the anonymity of the internet, more and more people are participating in dialogues and listening to voices that have long been silenced.

The latest website I’ve come to admire for these reasons is Youngist. Youngist provides “independent, youth-led political and cultural news analysis, digital storytelling, and creative intervention.”[ii] Blogs like Youngist have become popular in that they help form communities based in dialogue and common interests. Although blogs are sometimes labeled as a self-centered form of self-expression, this denies the social basis of blogs. We are a social species, and we are constantly finding various means to communicate and connect with one another. People who are frequently denied attention or representation in mainstream media deserve a place to share their stories, to connect with others who may be miles away, to alleviate their feelings of isolation. Blogs have more humanity than impersonal websites, thus forming an emotional connection with its viewers. In a world where we value science and numbers, there is an undeniable attractiveness toward emotionality.

With blog hosts like WordPress and Tumblr, it’s easy to form an online space to share. If we look at the New York Public Library website, it tells us all the necessary information we could need for a possible visit. If I follow the NYPL Tumblr blog, I can read the latest news on NYPL events, watch a funny book-related video, see what’s new in my neighborhood, and consider donating to the latest renovations after seeing the blueprints for the redesign. There is an increased commitment when we feel personally connected or invested in something.

Social media

Nonprofits, like Housing Works Bookstore, have made more of a personal online presence through blogging. I am much more likely to attend an event when it pops up on my Tumblr dashboard or I see a link to the event on my Facebook newsfeed. Another important aspect is the ability to share this information – posting it on a friend’s wall, e-mailing it to your sibling, or reblogging it for your readers to see. This type of following and sharing is crucial for building interest-based communities, but it also forms a network of support. This support can come in the form of funding and/or event attendance. If people share stories about the work they’re doing, it could inspire others to take part in some way. This is why we see leaps in websites like Kickstarter and – people want to do something.

We can call young people lazy and social media evil, but social media is not disappearing any time soon. The internet holds a world of possibilities that young people are building on. Through innovative web design and networking, young people and future generations will begin to actualize the role of progressive social media – inspiration to act, to live beyond computer screens. I cannot defend the internet in one blog entry, but I have faith in millenials and the power built and held through social media.


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