For Better or for Worse
Ever since the PC was invented it seems more and more of our lives have become digital, then when the Internet took off the technological takeover began to border on hostile. In today's world, just into the second decade of the 2000s, the concept of being online has managed to reach all generations - particularly through social networks. It is amazing how many people who five years ago did not use email are now on Facebook or YouTube - technologically impaired grandmothers are updating, posting, sharing, and so on like never before. For the younger generation - I write this as a 23 year old - they essentially live online. From mobiles to laptops to smartphones, they are always connected and always attached. No longer do they spend hours on the telephone talking to get the latest social updates; now it comes to them instantly. This new generation may seem disoriented and separated from the real world, and while many are quick to oppose their dependence on technology, it seems to have become a solid part of the global reality. For better or for worse, it needs to be accepted.
I depend on technology to organize and run my life; anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that. I am always connected, always available, always online. What makes me different from the younger generation I mentioned? Well, I have not always been on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or MySpace. Yes, I have spent the majority of my life with Internet access (computer science professor parent, sent my first email at four, first code at seven) but it was not until my preteen - teen years that communications moved online. Facebook did not come into my life until I started university, when it was designed to help students network with each other. Compared to now, it seems so simple. But me, I grew up without Google, without instant updates, constant connections; and although I am always connected now, I remember when newspapers were the primary source of information about important events.
Social networks are both good and bad. Their primary function is to help people stay connected, which they do rather well. A direct consequence of this, however, is the ideology of "instant.". Now everything can be shared instantly, so why would anyone wait? Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked people about letter writing in today's digital age, and from the responses it is clear that people simply do not have the patience for the traditional methods of sharing. On all levels, the obligation to always be updated, always available, always connected, always always always has become a disastrous, sadly accepted, part of life. To not do so can - and sometimes does - have disastrous consequences. I do not just mean in regards to one's social life, I am thinking of current events and actually important happenings in the world. So while they help people stay in touch and connected, social networks have also created the necessity to do so.
Today, the Internet is where people to to stay connected and informed about what they care about, what matters to them. In some cases this is just friends and family, but for others it extends far past that and into the more intellectual side of matters. Like I said before, I am always online and always connected. My twitter feed has managed to crash every extension, app, and even the browser because it is so hard to handle at times. Most people only have one Internet browser; I have four or five. There are many more examples I could continue on with, but I think you get the idea. Rather surprisingly, though, I have found that with all this technology and connections I am the most aware of the important "news" events and issues that I have ever been, and at the same time the least social. Both effects come from social networks, I might add. While I could read the news online (I have always disliked the newspaper and would listen to the radio instead) I now check my twitter feed. The Globe and Mail still is one of my homepages and I see it all the time, but I get the important news from elsewhere. Why? Because it is so much more relevant and useful. I have full control over what topics I see - and I can interact and share. It opens up a whole new level of possibilities.
My goal is to get people to care about humanitarian issues and human suffering. This is not easy at all, even with the Internet and the ease of sharing information on a global stage. To care, people need to know and understand. And they need to connect or feel connected. For me to do this I need to reach them where they go for this - social networks and the Internet. I have to find a way to meet people's expectations, which, quite frankly, are becoming a bit ridiculous. There are wonderful advantages to instant updates online, but people sometimes forget there is still a person at the other end who has to create the updates and a well thought out, detailed post or piece simply cannot be an instant creation! They can reach their audiences much faster, no doubt, but first they have to be created. This post, for instance, took me about an hour to write and it will only take seconds to upload to my blog. Then, a couple minutes to share it with my networks, and if someone reads it and likes it hopefully they will pass it on to their networks. Internet, social networks - good. You get a gold star. But after this post goes up, I need to write a new one for people to read, which most certainly is not an instant project. The demand for updates comes with a single, solitary timeline of now. Anything new must be available immediately; people not only want to be constantly connected but also constantly being updated. What if there are no updates all the time? Then that particular being falls out of view. Goodbye influence.
For all the negative I say about this topic, I have made it my life. I am always connected - by choice, not obligation. It is very important to stay up to date with what matters, and to me that is primarily related to humanity. I find traditional news venues do a rather shoddy job of providing me with certain relevant perspectives, so I get my information elsewhere - twitter. Social updates, sharing, discussions, etc happen on my Facebook; while I still use it as a platform for sharing topics, issues, causes, campaigns, and whatever else it is just me presenting to my mates. This is my setup, then, one platform reaches my mates directly and another provides the news and connects to a very different network. Not everyone does it this way, but I quite like my setup. The people who really do use twitter are the people who are serious and care about whatever. Facebook has a much more lax, social feel to it. While it still is a great place to present ideas to others, it lacks the same seriousness and is more akin to "Hey check this out!" than I find twitter to be. Of course, this is rather heavily influenced by who I connect to on either, but I still believe the fundamental nature of the two differs greatly. They both have uses, just different.
Finally, a quick word on why this is needed for the future of humanitarian causes. People do not care and will continue to not care until they feel there is a reason to change that. Human suffering will garner verbal or superficial support, but to really get people to feel that humanitarian desire they need to feel directly connected. Pictures and words are no longer enough; people are desensitized. How to break through that then? Hit them where it still hurts, approach them on the same level, make the cause the equivalent of a peer. In a few words - get online and socialize it. Then, use the instant to your advantage and keep updating, keep posting, keep sharing. The more space one takes up the more influence one has, and from there the more likely the message is going to be passed on to others. With networks, it is necessary keep in mind the chain of connections that can result; this is how the message gets spread. Online this is has become quick and easy, and therefore more likely to happen. Once again, social networks, good for you.