This post focuses on two possible perspectives on social media. In the first video, Sherry Turkle will talk about her research on young adults’ use of social media and the affects it may have on the way we communicate when we “log out.” Wael Ghonim will talk about the Egyptian Revolution and the vital role social media played as an organizing tool for governmental protestors.

We begin with Sherry Turkle, who contends that, by using mobile social media, we change who we are and how we interact with other people. More specifically, a distinction is made between social media use by adults and adolescents. According to Turkle, “What might feel ‘just right’ for [an adult], can be a problem for an adolescent who needs to develop face-to-face relationships.” Developing such interpersonal relationships is an important step in the process of testing and claiming one’s identity. As Turkle explains, young adults may become uncomfortable during an interpersonal conversation because it’s more unpredictable than a mediated exchange.

Howard Rheingold wrote about a similar phenomenon in 2002’s Smart Mobs:

“One of the most obvious early impacts on the level of the immediate social network is the role of texting in youthful mating rituals. Because they can take their time to compost their message, and because they don’t have to face rejection in person, young men in Scandinavia and elsewhere have found it easier to ask for dates” (p. 26).

Rheingold’s focus in this excerpt are young adults who fear rejection and therefore prefer a mediated exchange. Essentially these youths like that they are in control of the words, phrases, emoticons, pictures and other content they “send” to their friends. As we know, this is quite different from a face-to-face interpersonal interaction because we don’t have time to carefully consider how we’d like to word a sentence or the type of nonverbal cues we should emote. There simply isn’t time carefully arrange face.

Fast-forward a decade and Turkle’s findings suggest that, for some young adults, living in a mediated world of carefully constructed messages makes casual conversation seem too chaotic to deal with. This, of course, isn’t scripture. Some people are able to use media technology without it changing how they communicate. This next example of social media’s influence tells the story of Wael Ghonim, one of many young people who used Facebook to organize a revolution and create governmental change in Egypt.

Wael Ghonim, on the other hand, speaks about the 30-year decline of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak. As Ghonim explains, the Mubarak administration was one that used psychological fear tactics to remain in power for such a long period. The breaking point for many Egyptians was the widely circulated photo of Khaled Said, a young man who was tortured and killed by government officials. As Ghonim puts it, “Everyone started to think that [Khaled Said] could be my brother. He was a middle class guy. His photo was remembered by all of us.” These emotional responses to the photograph led to the creation of the We Are All Khalid Said Facebook page. The page became an organizing tool for those people who wished to protest the Egyptian government. After months of organized protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down and was charged and arrested for premeditated murder.

In these two examples, we see the power of the Internet and media technology. One serves as a warning as to what media can do to us. The other a triumphant tale of what the media can do for us. This is something important to be cognizant of the next time we sign on to our various social networks: Are we using media technology to be a change in the world or is media technology changing the core of our world?

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