Over at the excellent social-media site Mashable, there's an intelligent and thought-provoking post about the ways social media has changed us. And while its conclusions about social media's impact on our society included important points about information availability, political discourse and child literacy, I couldn't help but notice there were a few major oversights.
With that in mind, I thought it was equally important to point out my own five ways that social media has changed us.
1. Pants are optional for socializing:
Thanks to the advent of Internet/network mediated conversations via status updates, tweets, blog posts, chat text messages, et al, pants are now a purely optional accessory to social discourse. That advantage, once enjoyed solely by nudists and swingers, is now open to all. It might seem like a minor issue, but it's certainly changed the way I approach socialization. Now, staying at home in my boxers is no impediment to a robust discussion on any number of topics, even all held at once (while watching YouTube videos of terrible music). It's also changed my approach to pants: fewer pairs, less flattering but far more comfortable.
2. Spending eight hours a day in front of a computer no longer just for geeks:
There was a time when choosing to spend eight hours a day using a computer marked you as an incurable geek. No longer. Just try to find me a teenager in the U.S. who isn't tethered to a PC, console or cell phone for that much or more of every day. It's no longer aberrant; it's the norm. To be an incurable geek these days, you pretty much have to live in front of a computer -- or worse yet, be one of those weirdos who doesn't do social media at all. Freak.
3. We are all egomaniacs:
By previous standards, we are all egomaniacs. For a while, Facebook even had us all speaking of ourselves in the third person, in true self-obsessed style: "Cory Casciato is thinking about going to a movie," or "Cory Casciato just finished World War Z." At least that's over. We still spend a lot of time oversharing, but we dropped the awkward third person. It's just all a part of keeping in touch with friends and sharing our opinions. Anyone who spent as much time writing, talking and spreading the word about themselves as we all do now would be a hopeless narcissist. The standards have changed. Now to be a hopeless narcissist, you have to stage a hoax about one of your children flying away in a silver balloon in order to try to get your own reality show.
4. Breaking up is hard(er than ever) to do:
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The New York Times just posted an interesting (and horrifying) article on how breaking up in the digital age is unbelievably messy. Do you unfriend or not? Go the extra step to block the ex? Delete your pictures? Untag them? Change the password? What if you want to be friends in real life still? Or just Facebook friends? When does the natural curiosity about the ex turn into cyberstalking? Not only do you have a lot of new decisions to make, you also have to figure out how all those damn settings work to actually use them. Thanks, future: Break-ups are longer, more involved and weirder than ever before.
5. Procrastination now more efficient than ever:
Between Facebook status updates, tweets from a few hundred follows and the occasional peek at a social bookmarking site like Digg or Reddit, you might never get anything done again. Throw in checking your e-mail, your RSS reader and a quick glance at YouTube and by the time you finish one complete pass through the loop, you can be damn sure enough new stuff's appeared that you can start again and see almost all new media. Someone even made an elaborate flowchart to illustrate it. It's a little frightening, really. Wasting eight hours at a stretch used to require serious effort -- or at least a mind-boggling amount of weed. Now it's as easy as turning on the computer and telling yourself you'll get back to work in "just a minute."