Are social media so…cial?

by Valentin Dellieu

The common sense argues now that ICT are really challenging the way to encounter and to keep in touch with people.  Is it so true?  There is of course no black or white answer but some reflexion to have and to keep in mind.  Debates are diverse and hard to be solved regarding the way those media are now part of our daily life.

But whose daily life? The huge majority of Internet users are “white” English speakers, living in urban or suburban area, well educated and earning an over average wage.  And in an urban context like Manchester’s, the divide is big between ICT users and others.  Communities on the web can only reach or gather people within this high socio-economical profile. This can be a weakness.

Furthermore, instead of engaging with difference, people in the social media look for similarity. They are based on same interests and specialised relationships.  As such, they don’t have to negotiate difference or disorder and are far away from the disturbing or overwhelming crowds of urban spaces on which communities were traditionally relying. So virtual communities, as a whole, cannot benefit from the day-to-day enjoyable encounters or face-to-face meetings.  It diminishes the range of possible shared information. It could also miss the potential of openness given by ICT.

On the other hand this absence of real contact is also one of the big advantages of social media.  Without it the rules of behaviour in groups and public place are not relevant anymore.  No need to dress up or to adopt specific attitude.  It can reduce fear and allows other kinds of expressions for a lot of different actors.  The recent events in North Africa and Middle-East are illustrating this reality very powerfully. It could let think that the rise of ICT is leading automatically to much more individual liberty even among these communities.  Some argues that it is not automatically the case partly because of the ‘information divide’ which on the opposite reinforce the traditional structures and power relations in such a way to deepen present inequalities and communities.  The information divide is also highly discussed and seemed not so important as such because it is balanced by other kind of information – the local knowledge – which is much more appropriate to day-to-day life of  the so-called ‘information poor’.  Nevertheless, combined to other divides and poverty it is a significant serious problem.

Very important are the discussions around the weight and importance of ICT as real ‘social’ media. Their new role should not be seen on a too deterministic way.  If they have a high role in today’s life and economy it won’t replace locality.  A lot of virtual community had understood this element and have a situated side where other kind of information and feelings can be shared. Social media are very important tools but not merely site of community and encounter as such.

Based on

Evans, K. F., Maintaining Community in the Informal Age. The importance of Trust, Place and Situated Knowledge, New York, Palgrave Macmillian, 2004.

Feel free to comment in a constructive way

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