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Social Media: The 200 Tentacled Octopus

September 22nd, 2012 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, is social media a new paradigm in social relationships or the threshold where we lose ourselves in technology?

First a confession. I hesitated tackling this mind boggling topic. It seemed like a good way to get a massive headache. Better to hunker down in front of the TV with a big bag of potato chips and see who pockets the $10 million dollar prize in golf’s Fed Ex Championship. Nevertheless, let’s have a go at it.

I turned to Google (now a player in the field itself with Google +) to try and get a handle on the scope of the phenomenon. Just how many Social Media sites are out there? A Wikipedia article listed about 200 active sites including 13 “viral communities” that have more than 100 million users – with a caveat that the list is limited to the notable, well known sites.

Okay, so let’s sum that up as “too many to count”. I can feel the headache starting.

But surely there is some means of putting it in perspective? Well, try this on for size. If Facebook, the undisputed king of social networking, were a country based on its number of users, it would be the world’s third largest in terms of population – larger even than the U.S.

Can’t wrap your head around that? Let’s come at it from another angle. Twitter averages in the neighbourhood of 40 million tweets per day – and recorded more than one billion tweets in the month of December 2009.

Yikes! Where is that bottle of Advil?

Suffice to say, social media is here to stay. How it will evolve, and what new frontiers it will push forward into, is far beyond what most of us can speculate. So let’s narrow the focus. Is social media a technological phenomenon or a sociological one?

Social media is only possible because of what is commonly referred to as “Web 2.0” – technological breakthroughs that changed the Internet from being a one-way street, where those with the technological know-how pushed out information to the masses, to a user-friendly, democratic two-way street where anyone can put up content. Score one for technology.

On the other hand, one can argue that technology is a tool that develops in response to human needs. If the desire for a new and border-busting way to socially interact hadn’t existed, Web 2.0 would have gone in a different direction. Score one for sociology.

Looks like we’re wrestling with the old “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?” dilemma.

The most thought-provoking statement I came across, as I Google-surfed looking for some sort of clarity, is this one: We are no longer just using the Internet as a tool – we are becoming a part of it. Social media puts us into the web.

I don’t know about you – but that’s a pretty scary concept to me. 200 active and notable social media sites pulling us into the web. Convert that to a metaphor and you get a 200 tentacled octopus that doesn’t let go once it pulls you in.

I think I’m going to spend less time on the web. Suddenly it seems a dangerous place to venture into.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at www.mdyetmetaphor.com  or the novel online companion a www.mdyetmetaphor.com/blog.

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