How social media websites have shaped a generation
By Samuel Zucker
Facebook is one of the most popular websites on the internet. In one month people spend over 700 billion minutes on Facebook. That's almost 120 billion hours, 5 billion days, or 1.3 million years of time. Yet, these numbers represent the world. In just the United States there are 150 million Facebook accounts, which is equal to half the population of the country (5). Facebook has impacted the future of our country. More specifically it has impacted a generation. According to a 2010 study of students at the University of New Hampshire, 96% use Facebook daily (6). Many have tried to define what this dominant trend of not only Facebook, but all social media sites, means for the generation they are raising. Some say it promotes procrastination, some that it spurs revolution, but I think that the approach is wrong. Instead of asking 'What do these sites do?', I ask 'What do they teach us?'. Social media websites have shaped a generation into a quickly mobilized, highly communicative, and globally interconnected network.
In the past couple years there has been a spur of revolution around the world and news outlets in America were quick to point out the use of social media sites in aiding with the cause. Unfortunately, I do not think that there was a 'Twitter Revolution' in Moldova or Iran in 2009, but that journalists were too eager to find a story. A journalist for Foreign Policy wrote, "Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi" (7). The error found here is one of over-attribution; not every modern mobilization can be credited to Facebook or Twitter, but this does not make the point moot.
An example from the United States: Just one year ago a high-school senior from Bergen County, New Jersey created a Facebook event for a walk-out protest of the proposed educational budget cuts. She invited only her friends, but in 26 days the 'Attending' tab on the event exceeded 16,000 people. On the day of the protest thousands walked-out; both state and national attention was brought to an issue due to a Facebook event (8). Hope remains. The generations raised with Facebook and Twitter are given an advantage over past generations. We have a nationally common meeting place to plan and coordinate. While social media may not be a cause it could easily be considered one of the most efficient tools for mobilizing people.
With 150 active million users in America and 50% of all users logging-in on any given day (5) Facebook is indubitably a powerful tool for communication. Since the addition of a 'chat' feature on top of its 'message' feature, Facebook has expanded its service even further. Now you can see a person's pictures, interests, friends, and their comments by just clicking 'Add as Friend' and receiving a 'Confirm' in return. Then, you can instant message them whenever they are on or post to their wall if they aren't. I myself have over 1,000 'friends', but it is not considered out of the ordinary for people my age, nor should it be when the majority of a person's 'Facebook friends' would more aptly be described as 'Facebook acquaintances'. It is this dynamic within Facebook that allows it to promote vast communication to a network of people who are in some way related to the user, but not necessarily close enough to contact otherwise.
The possibility for widespread communication becomes even wider when blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites are added into the mix. With these sites users are split not only by real-life acquaintance, but also through interests. Musicians, politicians, and other popular figures share their opinions and information to millions who 'Follow' them on Twitter. This allows for a direct link to some of the most influential people in the world at the click of a button.