I Exist Online, Therefore I Am
Today, the most influential tool that has been developing and reshaping our culture as we know it is the social networking boom. Even more powerful than social networking itself is arguably the network of users and the validation of their devotion within a social network. This community element of social networking is important to understand the shifts in communication and how the virtual world continues to blend with the physical.
Solidifying an Online Existence
Bloggers and online enthusiasts are now involved in virtual discourses similar to how they would interact in person. Face to face interactions in the physical world have been manipulated by the virtual and public sphere through websites such as YouTube, Skype, AOL and Chat Roulette to name a few.
These sites in particular offer online chat forums where peers, family members and internet enthusiasts can come together and chat in real time, validating your online existence.
The rapid growth of social media has enabled individuals to showcase their lives online becoming more and more present in the virtual world. With declining laptop prices, high speed internet access, and the desire to be relevant and heard in today’s technical society, social media networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and so forth, are at the forefront of our online existence; an existence that is detrimental to succeeding in present day life.
Personally I find it hard to keep up. In 2009 and 2010 I lived and worked in a small city in South Korea teaching English to elementary school students. Although sites like Facebook had already been embraced by most of the world, South Korea or at least the city of Gwangju was less inclined to hop on the social media train straight away. I actually found myself struggling to find relevant material to relate to these young students. Unfortunately my video game knowledge is less than average and with the absence of Facebook, I suddenly felt hopeless.
It wasn’t until I arrived home in Toronto, Canada that I noticed a massive difference in the way individuals communicate and engage with one another. “Post it on my wall” or “Facebook me” became common exchanges between peers that seemed to override more real life tangible conversations.
I also found it interesting to observe the way brands and large corporations have shifted from a dominant physical presence to online advertising on social media sites fuelled by these new methods of communication. “Like us on Facebook” or “Find us on Twitter” are frequent statements made by companies to ensure they are current and encompass a substantial online presence. Otherwise, as I have come to discover, they might as well not exist at all.
Smaller Networks have Bigger Power
This community of smaller networks such as Facebook groups and comment logs on websites, blogs and sites like Craigslist, are becoming more and more powerful as the shift into virtual reality takes precedence. Comment spaces, for example are now built in to the design of the actual website (like Facebook) enabling internet users to display their opinions and establish relationships with like-minded individuals. Nowadays, internet users are able to search for or create their own virtual communities and do so for a number of reasons; to either:
- Rebel against mainstream culture
- Support a cause
- Express ones thoughts, interests and/or beliefs
- Or simply as a way to reach similar minded individuals.
Before my departure to South Korea I was able to make friends online just by joining “Gwangju Teachers” Facebook group. It was comforting to know I had a handful of acquaintances on another continent before I even left my own.
These groups are becoming more and more powerful since consumers themselves can have a greater influence, even more so perhaps, than a celebrity endorsement. These small networks are extremely accessible, more intimate and resilient. In turn, the group member’s relationships are more stable enabling the consumer to invest a considerable amount of trust in group members, who ultimately share similar interests. For example, by joining “Gwangju Teachers” social network, I felt more inclined to take this risk and flee to South Korea rather than if I had simply seen a celebrity promote the idea of teaching abroad.
Social networks are emerging at such a rapid pace, it’s no wonder human beings are shifting from a physical world and existing predominantly online. We now engage in virtual discussions similar to how we would interact in person but also feel part of a unified group; a very powerful sentiment. We use Facebook groups and various other secondary social networks as a platform to socialize, share content and essentially live our lives. The social networking boom has brought about bountiful changes to our world, effortless communication and has become crucial in establishing our online identity. Whether you reject or “like” the notion, this revolutionary technology is here to stay because in today’s society, if we don’t exist online, do we really exist at all?
Gillian Farber, a 25 year old Canadian writer is currently freelancing for Intelligent Positioning in the UK. Gillian graduated in 2009 with an Honours degree in Communication studies where she was a feature writer for her varsity newspaper. She has freelanced for a number of publications including The Huffington Post Canada and Women’s Post Magazine.