Why I Use Social Media: A Cultural Studies Perspective

To me, the most interesting thing about social media is that it allows you to communicate in a nonverbal fashion. Yes, you write words in status updates and tweets, but the recipients of those words either receive them live or after the fact.  Additionally, you post pictures, fill in different parts of the profile fields, and participate in various applications or groups…all of which communicates something about you. Looking at a person’s tweet history or Facebook wall history allows you to gather a lot of insight into what they are interested in, what they do on a regular basis, and what they feel is valuable enough to share with the world. In essence, they are showing you who they are rather than telling you about themselves on a repeated basis. I look at it as a means to break down (and accelerate) that typical getto know you part of meeting somebody. If you look at how much time we spend going through the socially anticipated “what do you do”, “what have you done”, “where are you from”, “who do you know”, and “what do you do for fun”, it sometimes adds up to a pointless group of chatter that typically leads to one person doing all the talking and the other person forgetting half the stuff they just heard.  Socially, we have learned to ask these questions in order to “sum up” the people we meet and break the ice of talking to a stranger. As many of us know, most people have already determined their impression of us in the first few seconds of meeting (as superficial as that may sometimes be).  So, on that note, why do we still do it? The way I look at it, it is far easier to accelerate the typical Q & A protocol by just looking at your social media sites. This way, you get a better picture of who this person is and what they are all about and can move onto more important things like developing a friendship/relationship or choosing to do business together independently of those generic questions we always tend to talk about.

I originally postponed my movement into social media by avoiding the rush to “get on Facebook” in college because I understood (and was weary of ) the social power behind it. I interpreted it as “AIM – AOL Instant Messenger – with a bio in which everybody can see everything”. It was a classmate, Michael Bykov, at the University of St. Thomas who finally convinced me that I HAD to get on Facebook. I asked Mike why I HAD to get on Facebook and his response was (as he hit me on the arm) “so people know who you are”. I assumed he was saying this in reference to the fact that I was a commuter student and was rarely present on campus outside of class. Mike basically told me that Facebook allows you to be on campus without actually being there – so people can (somehow) get to know you… At that moment, I realized the depth of the internet and the revolutionary things that social networking and mobile communications were going to have on humanity.  The idea that you can remove the time and space boundaries historically inherent in human interaction and interact with people anywhere in the world at anytime was intriguing.  Business applications of social media immediately came to mind.  Soon thereafter, I asked Dr. Lawrence (of the American Cultural Studies program at the University of St. Thomas) if he would be interested in working with me on an independent study to explore the development of online communities.  Dr. Lawrence accepted my brief pitch and allowed me to figure it out as we went (I just had a picture in my head of what I wanted to accomplish in a semester long independent study, but didn’t know how to really get there).  Over the course of my final college semester in spring 2007, we explored the ins and outs of the digital universe and its current and potential impact on civilization.  That semester was one of the most innovative and exciting things I ever experienced in school.

How does this all fit together? (lol) Well, it is the story of why I continue to use social media – including this blog.  The idea that I could just post things online that I was interested in, had done, or discovered was a breakthrough.  It allowed for the ability to highlight the things that have influenced me as a person and show why I am interested in the things I do. It also removed the boring necessity of having to always tell people those kinds of things in person…Additionally, social media provided a platform in which I could keep all of the things that represented me so somebody else interested in those things might stumble upon them and talk to me.  In that sense, social media allows people to show the things they are interested in while giving the space and freedom for others to actively hunt down that information or randomly stumble upon it and discover similarities.  As far as I am concerned, your social media is your resume 2.o.  It allows you to communicate the things that you are not conventionally asked in an interview or on an application.  From my perspective, schools, employers, and any other thing that requires an application/interview process should just go review peoples’ social media if they really want to get a strong understanding of somebody. Very similar to when somebody recommends another person, you are counting on the fact that the recommender has witnessed firsthand what the other person does or represents.  Because you have not actually seen for yourself, you are counting on the middleman to speak for them…well, now social media is that middle man.  Think about it, you stumble upon a new business and you check out their Fan Page or website. Right?  Basically, you are pulling from these things to draw your own conclusions. So how is that different than typical first impressions?  Well, for starters, it allows for much more depth and context that is not afforded in typical face to face interactions. The limitations of time, space, and mutual interaction are nowhere to be seen.

This is the power of social media as I see it, and until businesses understand that it is not just a way to directly sell things to people, it is going to be an uphill battle for businesses to properly adapt to an environment that was created for and by people first…as a way to communicate with one another.

Lastly, I’d like to point out the generational differences of using social media.  Older generations take the word “Friend” on Facebook very seriously (as in “you better already be my friend in the real world if we are going to be Facebook Friends”), whereas younger generations will connect with people they just met or randomly met on the street (or at an event) because they realize THAT is how you get to know that person better, stay in contact, and develop a friendship (digitally and/or physically). In many forms, it is the millennial version of “I’ll look you up”, “drop you a line”, or “here is my phone number or business card”… Done

-Adam Maikkula 02/24/10

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~ by Adam Maikkula on February 24, 2010.

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