I found the above video particularly interesting and applicable when discussing technology, the internet and social media in conjunction with the use’s effect on socialization and interaction. Though smartphones are a relatively new way to harness communication tools, the medium through which society connects is an interesting aspect to discuss for several reasons–the most important being the effect that constant connection has on our lives as human beings.
In this week’s article on social capital, it’s apparent that “specific patterns of media use have best explained the relationship between medium and society. People who spend inordinate amounts of time watching entertainment television tend to be less civically engaged, while those using the telephone to maintain social relationships tend to have broader social networks (Baym, Zhang, & Lin, 2004; Norris, 1996; Shah, McLeod, & Yoon, 2001c).” This seems rather obvious due to television’s one-way interaction versus a telephone connecting two people for a conversation.
So how exactly does this relate to our relationships on the internet? We’re not talking to just one person, and don’t have to be talking to anyone for that matter–so many activities are now done online that don’t involve other people. The research presented in the article aimed to focus on social networks as a gauge of social capital to disregard the effects of these other activities on engagement. Although it seems like common sense, it did report that “if citizens are less connected to one another and less trusting, democracy suffers (Putnam, 1993). Similarly, a knowledgeable public provides a strong foundation for democracy; political knowledge has therefore been included in many analyses as an outcome of social capital (Putnam, 2000; Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1996).”
To summarize, the Internet has not been deemed a complete “positive” as results of many studies have been lacking in proper methodology. While I do see the importance in trying to find the effects of Internet use, it’s also very important to measure the levels of interpersonal relationships just as television and telephone use indicated. After viewing the video above, how many times can you think of that you have been in a similar situation?
The article went on to say that “if the Internet can be used as a tool to build civic engagement, interpersonal trust, and political knowledge, it offers hope that we can stem the tide of youth civic disengagement.” But how can these possibly be measured if there are so few that can count themselves among a control group? Anyone would be hard-pressed to locate a young individual who doesn’t use the Internet, who doesn’t have a smartphone, and who doesn’t get any political news or information online in America. It’s extremely possible to measure current attitudes and engagement now versus in generations past, but impractical to attempt to compare engagement with Internet users and non-users. They simply cannot exist in today’s society. The study compared Myspace and Facebook, which would need to be altered or re-done for the information to be relevant to our largely anti-Myspace culture.
And like we’ve discussed multiple times in class, political knowledge and activism online has been called “slacktivism.” A relatively good point that Dave Karpf made in his article we read this week was that social media sites “can be an excellent means for communicating within a community of networked activists and, as such, can be a valuable means of spreading the word about an upcoming event, important news item, or memorable observation. But if major social or political changes could be accomplished merely by communicating with like-minded peers, such outcomes would be much easier to accomplish than they actually are. Successful political activism is hard, much harder than the tactical metrics would lead us to believe.”
This leads back to the Filter Bubble issue: I, personally, am a fairly active social media user with a liberal political background. If I tweet an article from MSNBC, who of my conservative followers will click on the link? We choose to engage and communicate with many different people, but saying something on the internet doesn’t make those people listen. The number listed under my ‘followers’ is no indicator of how many people will actually read my tweets. Because they don’t have to; we choose what we want to read and don’t want to read.
Social capital and influence are surely extremely difficult things to measure in our era of spambots and promoted posts and complicated algorithms, but from what I can see: our generation is as politically informed as previously, less engaged than ever, and even less interested in interaction beyond a glowing screen.