With the invention of the printing press in the early nineteen forties, Gutenberg changed the way information was passed on forever. Books, and the information they contained, were once a privilege, only a small class of the population were entitled to. With each book having to be copied by hand, they were a rare commodity. The largely illiterate population saw little use for them. Once books could be produced at scale, the access to information was no longer restricted to first hand experiences and interactions. Literacy became wide spread and the world suddenly seemed to become a lot smaller.
An estimate from Google puts the number of books published close to a hundred and thirty million. Yet today, the era of the printing press seems like it is in its twilight. The advent of the digital age has made the need to put ink on paper redundant. It seems incredible, even today, that close to half the world’s population has access to a repository knowledge accumulated over the years, covering all kinds of subjects.
Reports indicate over 3.8 billion people have access to the internet. Never in our history, have people had the ability to share information at the speed and efficiency this network provides. With it becoming a larger part of our lives each day, inevitably its impact can be seen deeply rooted in the way our society has evolved.
Sitting at the heart of this digital revolution is social media. Our window into the world. This window however, seems to be shaping the world influencing not only individual habits but also global trends.
English is just one of the languages used across these digital network.s Its relative popularity however, makes it a great indicator of the trend. All language has a natural tendency to evolve with time, but we are witnessing here is not a gradual transition. It is a dramatic difference in the way people communicate. Brevity is taking precedence over everything else.
The evolution of language, in comparison seems trivial when compared to some of the larger effects of social media. Professor Brian Primack, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, raises a more pressing concern about the effect of prolonged exposure to social media. “This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults.” Psychologists claim that it is causing real mental ailments for a large number of people. Rarely has a gobal epidemic of this scale spread so quickly without raising serious alarms. The irony is obvious. The responsibility for raising the alarms has fallen on the source of the problem itself. The debate on it’s ethical implications is on going.
All this conversation about individuals being affected makes it easy to forget how wide the web spreads. Global, political events are shaped every day by perception. The power that once rested in the editorial slant of a news agency, has shifted to these platforms. Governments have begun to leverage its power to influence opinion and shape outcome. High impact world events are finding their roots in outcomes of social media opinion.
Business in the digital age has made sure it has not been left out. In fact the conglomerates that run large social networks find themselves at the pinnacle when it comes to organizations that wield the most influence. Like with large organizations through history, questions are often raised about their intent.
On the flip side, inaccessible corporations suddenly found themselves a very public face that forces them to engage with their customers at a level of interaction almost unheard of in the past. It is not all doom and gloom.
Its not just the distribution of ideas that is changing but also their creation. Any individual can share an opinion and have a voice. Further, the technology that aids in the creation of content to propagate information has grown rapidly, giving individuals the ability to channel their thoughts into content ready for consumption. Editing tools for film or music, photography tools, writing aids like an essay helper or grammar check have not only become accessible, they have made it affordable to create works of significance.
Only a decade ago, making a film cost resources beyond most individual’s means but today, the tools to create and distribute one to a reasonably sized audience are within reach.
With all the movement we are seeing and how quickly it seems to be generating an impact, it has become more important than ever to pause and take a step back. Like all the tools mankind has created, Social media has the ability to create change. What direction we choose to push this change is a decision we take collectively. It is easy to shirk responsibility saying the power lies in the hands of the few that control these platforms but as a user all of us chose to be complicit with their actions. It is time to take ownership and push for a world we truly want to live in.