We live in a challenging socially connected, but yet isolated world. Turkle (2012), in her Connected, but alone? TED Talk, said that the ideal is to use what we learn in the virtual world for the real world. The problem is that social networking happened and people started living virtually. Some try to control what to say, how to say it, and when to say it (Turkle, 2012). Instead of allowing people to be human and speak naturally, which exposes our natural flaws and inadequacies, social networking has become a new avenue for narcissism and self-preservation (Mehdizadeh, 2010). Turkle explains that this can lead people to have less voice-based, authentic conversations and limit the establishment of real life social networks. Even when people are together in the same room, they are not engaging if they are all staring at their screens. Hampton, Sessions, & Ja Her (2011) discusses the need for real life relationships in the form of “close confidants” (p. 132) or core network groups. They explain the benefits as “core networks provide broad forms of social support, including emotional aid and companionship” (p. 131). Without groups like these, people end up isolated and at risk of having to cope with life’s woes alone (Hampton et al.).
There is another side to social media that promotes sharing and helping, and ultimately I believe these are acts of caring for others. I have no doubt that to some people, helping others can be another form of narcissism and self-promotion. Even so, the result is entirely different. A few forms of social media that meet this criteria are blogs, question/answer web apps, product reviews, wikis, and crowdsourcing. These generally revolve around information sharing for the benefit of the overall community.
Today, there are thousands of blogs in the format of walkthroughs of technical processes in many areas. This includes such things as installing VPN on a Linux server, adding a splash screen to an Android app, or writing a WordPress plugin. There are question / answer social media sites such StackExchange where someone asks a question and others answer them. Several years ago, I needed to translate a web application into Russian. I installed a crowdsourcing web app called Pootle and others translated the web app. Some did so because they wanted to use the product, but others helped for the sake of helping and contributing. These social media sites are largely about the creation of content and the building and sharing of knowledge. Most of these people are not receiving monetary rewards for this work.
I think this other social web promotes connectedness as it shifts the focus from self to helping others, which comes at a cost. It is easy for someone to shamelessly promote themselves on Facebook or post a sad comment seeking moral support of sympathy. However, it takes much more effort and time to produce a high quality walkthrough or to post an answer to a difficult problem you struggled with in order to help another developer.
Hampton, K. N., Sessions, L. F., & Ja Her, E. (2011). Core networks, social isolation and new media. Information, Communication & Society, 14(1). 130-155, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2010.513417
Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self presentation 2.0: Narcissism and self-esteem on Facebook. Cyberpyschology, Behavior and Social Networking, 13(4). 357-364, DOI: 10.1098/cyber.2009.0257
Turkle. S. (2012) . Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7Xr3AsBEK4