“Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana”

I recently did a research paper that included research on the history of social media. During my research, I came across this article written in 1995 by Clifford Stoll titled, “Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana”.

Almost 20 years later, and this quote rings true more now than then,

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

It is an interesting observation that deserves more exploration. The internet (particularly social media) has a great affect on human interactions, and social media is ever-evolving. Twitter was started as a micro-blog where you wrote in 140 characters how you felt. “@Twitterhandle is going to change in 5… 4… 3…” It’s amazing how quickly the site has grown in popularity. Remember when MySpace was the social media place to be? Those were the days… only 5 years ago. Huh? That’s right. Wiki it if you don’t believe me.

In 1999, blogging became wide-spread. Two sites were front-runners in the blogging world: Open Diary and Live Journal. Can you imagine now coming across an “Open Diary” you wrote before the blog world evolved in the way it has now? Is it as scary a thought to you as it is to me? When I first started blogging, I wrote like I was writing in a journal. You know those dark thoughts that you don’t tell anyone and you certainly don’t expect anyone else to read it—and worse, comment? I forgot that I even wrote it until 5 years later when someone found it and then spread it. Luckily I was reminded of its existence and I quickly deleted it. If it was on paper, it would’ve been hidden and forgotten about without much consequence. It’s not so online.

As of 2011, Americans’ number 1 resource for news was social media—taking over newspapers as the former number 1 source. This is a 2-edged sword and puts a greater responsibility on the every day user of social media. During the hunt for the Boston Bombers, I took to Twitter (as millions did, including the FBI, local police, and on-air news anchors) for the most up-to-date news. I imagine that it helped as well as hindered. The bottom line was achieved and I believe that social media helped the swift apprehension. One downside to the use of social media for news is the false reports. When there were reports that Paul Walker died in a car crash, I read so many people asking the validity of the reports. I had some friends spreading that it was a fake and that it was a ploy to increase sales of the latest Fast and Furious movie.

What is the use of social media doing to us as humans- humans who need socialization to thrive as a species? We need socialization to survive until we are able to verbalize our needs, and it is also crucial to our thriving among others. Social Media is changing the way our children communicate socially. Verbal cues, tone, eye contact, and body language can only be learned in person. Before social media, those who were not interacting socially with others were outcasts. But are we really interacting socially with social media or is it just an illusion? I tend to lean more toward the latter.

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