Social media and technology in general have been getting a lot of press recently thanks to the Olympics. Since social media began to truly explode, it is this Olympics that could be named as the first ‘Social Media Olympics,’ and similarly is perhaps the first true test for the social media revolution. Since Beijing, Twitter users have swelled from 1 million to in the hundreds of millions, Facebook users from 100 million to 300 million. In addition it’s probably wise to acknowledge the huge difference in Internet censorship between China and England.
At these Olympics, Twitter has been a source of scandal and there were concerns as to how live uploading from events would affect broadcasting rights. In fact the sheer volume of people using social media and communication technology is supposed to have interrupted official information and broadcasting lines within the games. The use of social media at these games is a fascinating discussion, but (of many things) what has struck me is how quickly social media and technology in general has boomed.
The Internet was launched in the year that I was born – 1991. I can remember having computers around from when I first started primary school in 1996 but they didn’t really do much. In fact, we still have an old black and white Toshiba laptop lying around the house, it’s only functions are basic games (think Mah Jong, Mine Sweeper) and word processing.
At primary school we had computers from year three or four (1998/9). These were very limited in number and were those Apple iMac G4’s. To do our homework we’d use encyclopedia’s or atlases. My atlas was a treasured possession as it was new and shiny. I can’t really recall when I first started to use the Internet, but an early memory would be the discovery of the CIA World Factbook. It would have been the year 2000 and we were tasked with researching countries for the Sydney Olympics. I was amazed. To be able to have all of the information there with such ease was mindblowing. And I didn’t even have to trace the maps.
Since then things have accelerated dramatically. At high school the Internet quickly became my most valued resource. Assignments became typed as a rule and the NCEA website became really useful for finding exemplars and previous exam papers.
At University this dependence on the Internet became even more pronounced. Since 2009 email has been an official form of communication between students and the University. All of our assignments must be uploaded to an online plagiarism checker and the majority of resources can be found online. Facebook groups, google docs, dropbox, evernote – totally indispensable.
And that’s just talking computers/ the Internet. Cellphones have completely exploded as have mobile devices. I could go on, but I presume that I am preaching to the converted.
It made me think though, what about those who have never known anything else?
My sister Isabel is 10, this makes her 10 years younger than I am at 20. She’s a post 9/11 baby, post Y2K bug baby for that matter and so has grown up in a world where technology is king and a fact, it’s not anything that revolutionary. It’s fascinating how in only 10 years the differences in our experiences can be so large. For Isabel, when she has a question the first port of call is the Internet, she wants to watch TV? The Internet. She wants to play a game? The Internet. But at the same time, she’s too young for Facebook, Twitter, her own email account, she does have a blog but she hasn’t started using it yet. I decided to have a little chat with her, to see what she thinks from her view of things.
M: Okay, so Izzy, first off what do you use the Internet for?
I: Playing games and researching things.
M: What do you mean by researching things?
I: Like homework and stuff, researching things about the Olympics, the latest news, finding out things I have questions about. [Editors note: Isabel is obsessed with natural disasters, she’s a kid who is afraid of things until she knows every single detail and she uses the Internet to fulfill this need.]
M: Would you say that the Internet is instrumental to your life?
M: What do you think of people’s ability to talk with anyone anywhere? Is this amazing, or just a fact?
I: It was amazing at first, but now it’s really just a fact.
M: What is your view of social media? From the view of someone who can’t use it yet.
I: I’d like to be able to use them, I’m not that keen on twitter though.
M: Where do you see technology going? What makes you really excited in terms of new technology?
I: That one day you could have like a computer that you can make small and fit in your pocket and then make it go big again. Like a nintendo but better.
M: Would you say that technology has advanced in your lifetime? Can you think of any big technology related inventions?
I: iPhones, iPads, they’re kinda big changes. But yeah. [Editors note: She didn’t really sound that impressed.]
For Isabel social media, mobile technology, computers, the Internet, they are just a fact of life. It’s a perspective that boggles me. From my point of view developments in social media and technology are fascinating. So much has changed and been invented in my lifetime that I am totally in awe of developments in new media/social media etc. Yet for her, it just is.
It makes me wonder, as technology becomes more and more spectacular, does it become less interesting in turn? Think about the washing machine, that would have been astounding once upon a time right? And so what does that say for social media gurus and the like? Sure, social media, like marketing, journalism, pr, it has a romantic edge to it but will the next generation need people specialised in this area? Or will it just get absorbed back into the established hierarchy of professions as another useful skill?
I think it would be interesting to expand on this discussion with people in staggering age groups older than Isabel and I to discuss it further. People just five/ ten years older than myself to begin with to recall their memories of the advent of the Internet. So please, please share.