- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Cara Battle
Cara Battle looks at how far the role of social media has come in our daily lives
According to Digital Buzz blog in 2011 there were a staggering 500,000,000 active Facebook users. That’s one in 13 people on earth and half of them are logged in at any given time every single day. In just twenty minutes 10.2 million comments are made, 2.7 million messages are sent and 1.9 friend requests are accepted. It’s clear: we’re obsessed with Facebook.
However, Facebook isn’t our only addiction. In March 2006 Jack Dorsey developed the micro-blogging site Twitter which went live in July of that year. It took 3 years, 2 months and one day of the site being live before the billionth tweet was sent and now users send on average a billion tweets a week. The nature of the site allows for the almost “real time” access of information in 140 character snippets with the tweet count reaching record levels on the 25th of June 2009 when Michael Jackson died with 456 tweets being sent every second.
We crave and we like the ready accessibility of information and through Facebook and Twitter the acquisition of this information couldn’t be easier. We are given access into people’s lives from so many dimensions, rendering online ‘stalking’ an extremely easy task. The classic ‘Facebook stalk’ when introduced to a person we haven’t met or heard of before gives us an immediate impression of that person without us actually having to meet them.
Facebook took the decision for us that the access to all this past personal information was what we all wanted to readily give out and so has begun to convert all ‘profiles’ into ‘timelines’. The argument on their behalf was that we could set privacy settings. They neglected to mention, however, that in order to do this we would have to individually set the accessibility of each status posted from the time we first got Facebook. That takes time, time we do not have.
As if this wealth of information about our ‘friends’ on Facebook wasn’t enough, Twitter gives us instant access into the lives of celebrities. The tagline for the Ok Magazine franchise is “first for celebrity news” when in fact often they source their information from rumours, leaks or tweets posted on Twitter. Society craves instant updates on the lives of these starlets and waiting even one day for the next published edition of the magazines is not enough. Reports and stories published in the magazines always feel like they’re filtered through another source, placing yet another barrier between us and our idols. Twitter, on the other hand, gives us direct access to their words as they themselves ‘publish’ their own updates, providing of course that these are the celebrities’ personal accounts and not their PR manager’s plugging page.
Twitter only gives us 160 characters to describe ourselves in our biography so we are much less exposed in terms of our identity on the site. We can also build up a profile relating to certain interest or activity, following and interacting with people of similar interests. In following these celebrities, for example, we get the opportunity to interact with other fans. Despite never having met these people you instantly have something in common with them and have something to chat about. Every new tweet from the celebrity gives new sustenance to the conversation and there will always be something going on which can be discussed.
I got Twitter a couple of years ago and never really used it at first until I found the Twitter pages of my favourite band. Very quickly I was opened up to a network of worldwide dedicated fans and I was suddenly chatting to people from Wisconsin, Japan and Australia who all shared the same common interest as me. The band then toured around the UK and it was at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park last year that I actually met some of the people I had been talking too. They’d come from all over Europe to the gig and we had a great day standing front row enjoying the music we all love.
So despite being inherently impersonal in its online format, Twitter then opened up a whole new world in which new friendships and networks can be created. This makes it wonderful for promotion and marketing because as soon as some information about tour dates or a new product is released, that magical ‘retweet’ function instantly accesses a much wider audience than you could ever reach. This potential for expansion and connection is what makes the site so successful and so much more than just a passing trend.