Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Thoughts on Social Media

Online social media is the phenomenon of the age. The news is filled with articles and analysis of the impact of social media on children, adolescents, families, consumers, social organizations, brand loyalty, consumer decisions, holiday travel planning, software engineering, innovation, travel, learning, corporate greenwash, emergency management, health communication, and ad infinitum.

Well, guess what? Social networking is also changing genealogy and everything else having to do with life on the planet. There are almost as many articles, studies and commentaries on smartphone usage as there are on social media. The current population of the earth is estimated to be 7.442 billion people. Of those billions, 2.53 billion own smartphones. See "Number of smartphone users worldwide from 2014 to 2020 (in billions)." There is a direct relationship between the number of smartphone users and the rise of social media. Yes, one-third of all the people on the face of the earth own smartphones.

To give an example of what social media can do, the most popular YouTube sensation has 61 million subscribers. By the way, the top 50 are almost exclusively entertainers, mostly comedy and music. My additional comment is that most also use language and images that I will not look at or listen to.

However, if I go by my own experience with genealogists, I am guessing that, as a group, they will likely be the last smartphone holdouts in the world. But that is another post for another time.

The key to controlling this huge flood of social media lies in the simple fact that these devices have an off switch. Most of my children and their families have strict "device time" controls. Perhaps, we should all employ some kind of controls. I am best known, by the way, as a social media person. But I do not spend as much as an hour a week on social media. Yes, I write compulsively, but I look at social media, such as Facebook, only occasionally or not at all. Our family now uses Instagram almost exclusively for communicating and that is the only social network I look at regularly.

However, this post will go out over social networking outlets all over the world. Hence, my immersion in the social networking world.

To begin to control social media, I think we need to acknowledge its place in our lives and the lives of others. We can't pretend to stick our heads in the sand and wish that it would go away. It is not going away, it is getting more pervasive. My maternal grandfather was a newspaperman. He worked for newspapers all his life. My main memory of him is that he came home every day from work and read the newspaper. Today, I haven't read a real physical newspaper for a very long time. But I have learned that there is very little "news" that I really care about reading. So, I use "filters" and subscribe to only those news outlets I am interested in learning about. But I am far from the "usual" case. I spend most of my days in front of a computer. Even now, as we are digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives, we are using computers to operate the cameras and store and transfer the images.

I view computers, including all the other devices like smartphones and tablets, as "tools." I use them for specific purposes. The key, for me, is realizing that they are merely tools to do things I want to do. Yesterday, when we went to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Postal Museum, we used our smartphones to see how the traffic was on the freeways. We used our smartphones to find the museum and for information about which Metro train to take. We used our smartphones to find out about the bus system in D.C. and to find bus stops and Metro stations. We looked up things about the exhibits in the museum that interested us. We used the smartphones to keep in touch with our children and monitor email. We used our smartphones to find a way back to our apartment and avoid the crush of traffic on the freeways. Most of these activities would have been impossible just a few short years ago.

I used my computer this morning to look up the statistics cited in this article. Living here in Annapolis would be immeasurably more difficult without our smartphones and our connection to the internet. Uncontrolled usage is when the social media begins to be the object of your activities rather than the tool to doing what you would really like to achieve in life.

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