Dr. Mariann Hardey

Digitally on.

Speaker, Writer, Academic.

Durham University Lecturer.

I do stuff for the BBC.

Feminist & lovely.

Slanguage of social media

the reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK. OK.

July 2011

Social media is based on one thing, Social. And you know what Social is? Social is the reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK. OK.

Where do we go from here? 

On one level this post confirms how social has long shaped human relationships that, in turn, have also influenced the development of other communication resources and social practices. 

The beginning of the twentieth century was characterised by a concern about the deterioration of social relationships and a ‘loss of community', as a consequence of rapid industrialisation and urban industrial growth (read the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies and best best known for his distinction between two types of social groups, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft [1887] (1957)). 

The invention of the first electric communication technologies, such as the telegraph (Standage, 1999), and the telephone (Fischer, 1992) provided new forms of mediated contact and conversations, which could take place at a distance and (for the first time) in synchronous real time. 

More recently the development of the internet as a communication medium has been celebrated by some influential commentators as a new ‘communications revolution' (see top sociologist Howard Rheingold's work on virtual communities, 1993). 

Then in the 1990s it was suggested that the use of the World Wide Web on the internet promoted new relationships that recaptured a sense of previously ‘lost' communities affecting both social and communal behaviour (Barry Wellman is your man here 1999; as is the work of Robert D. Putnam, Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community, 2000).  For others, however, such technology was regarded as further evidence of a ‘social fragmentation' (see Clifford Stoll  as ‘Computers and networks isolate us from one another.' - 1995). 

It should be evident from the introduction to this post that I include myself as sharing what I describe as a ‘seriously social sensibility'.  The interesting thing is where this is heading, and I am reminded at this juncture about the ‘concerns and fears', or ‘hopes and dreams' of the technological power, in the first instance, of the internet and web.  At the time, the words ‘internet' and ‘web' quickly became synonymous with ‘all things possible' (Wellman and Hogan).  However, this perspective was also matched by an equally strong theme from initial commentaries about the threat to social relationships and society that would be replaced by ‘cyber' relations, as in E.M. Forster's [1909] imagination of a dystopian future in The Machine Stops.  More recently this has been recaptured by the anxieties about the continued intensity of internet use defined as an ‘addiction' (e.g. Sonia Livingstone's work on youth and social networks).

So, it is with some relief that there is now a moment to note the mundane and ordinary aspects of the seriously social. Those of us who are immersed in digital networks are all and will continue to be socially active; both in the sense of how our own networks may reflect our profile presence and, at the same time, in the form of actions that are a feature of the seriously social, and reflect our connection to others.  Indeed, rather than offering a suitable windup - because social networks and associated media by their very nature are never-ending - these thoughts and my discussion should be viewed as another beginning.

To this end, seriously social does not come to an end when we log off a social platform, when I finish writing this post, or when you finish reading this blog.