Communication is an ever-shifting field, but the truest definition of what it means to “communicate” has never wavered. God was the first communicator; before the creation of the Earth, God the Father, His Son the Word, and the Holy Spirit communed together (John 1:1). God “spoke” the world into existence and He created humankind in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). The sharing of messages and meaning remains the constant essential definition of communication, but the mode of the messages has changed over time. With each industrial breakthrough in communication technology, the culture shifts, history is altered, and the geographical layout of the world seems to flux as time and space are bypassed. From the printing press to the Internet, each breakthrough communication technology has left an indelible mark on the history of the world and the cultures of societies that use them.
In the 21st Century, Social Media reigns as the current technology king, and it is a force to be reckoned with. There seems to be no limit to the potential of this communicational giant and only time will tell what further uses or implications this technology holds for us in the future. Within this medium, there are three current trends that portend an important role in how we communicate with our audiences: Social Media’s voice in the news, Social Media’s contribution to the “celebrity culture” of our day, and Social Media’s role in the market.
Social Media in the News
Social media has come to take a significant role in the disbursal and creation of news. While newspaper usage is on the decline, online news sites are on the rise. Even though most people still tune into the television for a majority of their news consumption (American Press Institute, 2014), social media still plays an important role because news stations will now broadcast live Tweets to make the news more interactive (2014). Social media will continue to change the landscape of the news; and the field of journalism will not die, but shift with it.
The inklings of this change could be seen years ago in 2004 when Twitter and Facebook made headlines: key players in the Arab Spring cited these sites as valuable tools in backing their cause and organizing protests. News sources have also picked up on the trend of keying into social media to measure public interest. Certain stories, videos, or events that are popular enough on social media to go “viral” or become “trending” now have the ability to make television news headlines as well. Because of this, some would argue that social media gives everyone a voice in the news. The popularity of smartphones with recording devices and cameras allows for more eyes, ears, and voices to be near the action of unfolding news events. As the ownership of these devices continues to increase, this could be a major trend that will change the way the news is consumed. The Internet is an interactive social space, and the field of journalism may be shifting towards a more collaborative environment, rather than the traditional sender-receiver model that it has held in the past.
Social Media in Culture
Social Media’s impetus for further interaction in the News sect is just a small symptom of the larger picture: Social Media has begun to shape our culture in a unique way. PBS correspondent Douglas Rushkoff even coined a nickname for the upcoming generation: “Generation Like.” This refers to the obsession over the social media currency known as “likes.” A potential problem with “like” mania is that it provides an arbitrary number with which to quantify one’s personal value. Social Media also contributes heavily to our current “Celebrity Culture.” Superstars like Justin Beiber and Jen Selter are proof of the power of Social Media and its ability to launch a celebrity’s public career. The message is: if you gain a large enough audience, you have the ability to become powerful, rich, and famous. But even if you never reach the superstar status of the likes of Justin Beiber, ordinary people have equal access to a platform from which they can create a personal “fan base.” Psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor believes that Social Media Culture is creating a generation of narcissists who lack the ability to feel empathy for other humans because of their reduced face-to-face interaction and because they are bombarded with self-absorbed messages online. Dr. Taylor states, “Research suggests that social media web sites, such as Facebook, are receptacles of narcissism because it gives young people outlets for sharing the trivial and gaining attention”.
The onset of Social Media networking has created a completely different virtual reality where people can express themselves and interact with their friends. Users on Facebook create a profile and in doing so choose the way they wish to project themselves to the world. Social networking sites have created a new venue for social and relational interactions among users. This now weaves the function of technology not only into our daily functioning lives, but into our private and social lives as well. Through social networking sites, individuals can maintain a “virtual presence” at all times and even create a “virtual persona”. Another new feature of social interaction that was not always the case is the constant stream of minute-to-minute updates on our social group’s lives. The impulse to know this information instantly and constantly is a new phenomenon that has been ushered in by the use of the Internet in social networking.
Social Media in the Market
Social Media does not only affect the culture and the media, it has lasting impact on the Market. Companies are aggressively taking advantage of the number of Social Media users to gather information about customers, to locate potential customers, and to get free publicity by having the consumer advertise their brand for them. Social networking sites like Facebook and Pinterest are able to track their users’ every movement, gain insight into their interests, and peddle that information to other companies. This has put more information about customers than ever before into the hands of sellers. Each commercial “like” that a Facebook user endows is a statement about who they are as a consumer. Because people “like” what other people like, pop culture has more influence than ever before. Companies can now tap into their biggest fans to do marketing for them for free, by getting the fans to share images and information that they would already share in their time online. Social Media is changing the landscape of marketing: consumers no longer respond to high volume, one-sided publicity as they once did. Now they crave interaction, and marketing that feels organic rather than produced.
Another notable trend that marks the effect Social Media has had on the economy is “crowdfunding.” Crowdfunding allows small ideas and businesses to raise funds through the use of social media sites such as Kickstarter to launch their ideas. Fashion businesses, publications, tech gadgets, charities, and so much more have been able to simultaneously raise the needed cash to start their business and receive an automatic clientele through their online supporters. In the past, these types of entrepreneurs would need to find some powerful or wealthy backers to fund their ideas, but now with the power of the Internet and Social Media, they can draw upon the resources of thousands of ordinary individuals with the click of a button.
Social Media is a new platform that has taken hold of our society and will continue to affect the way we communicate and relate with each other. However, at the heart of communication is shared meaning and understanding. These trends portend an important role in the way we communicate with our audiences, but practicing the virtues of patience and wisdom in communication are as important now as they ever have been or ever will be. An important aspect to also consider as our technology for communication progresses is the new and wonderful ways with which we can harness the power of these technologies to share the Gospel. God was the original communicator, and He created humanity in His perfect image. It is no accident that Jesus’ choice method of sharing the Good News was to commission mankind to preach it (Matthew 28:16-20). While culture and technology may continue to evolve, the unchanging message of the Gospel and the goodness of God never wavers.