If you asked noted psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943 to name one of the fundamental needs of any human, he would most likely respond with the need for love/belonging. If you ask any college student or business professional now, in the year 2011, the same question, they would most likely respond with ‘I need to be connected!'
Connection, in this sense, has two meanings: first, based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we desire to establish relationships, whether with a person, thing or idea; second, connection refers to the action of linking one thing to another, i.e. connection to the Internet. We now live in an era where our basic need for connection is fulfilled via our physical connection to the Internet. In this short essay, I explore how the Internet, specifically social media, is changing the way we connect and communicate with one another.
Just like radio, the newspaper, and television, social media serves as a social instrument for communication; this however, is where the similarities end. Unlike traditional forms of media where communication flows in a linear fashion, social media platforms allow individuals to interact with the message thereby making communication a transactional, two-way process. The ability to interact with websites and other people on that site has dramatically changed the way that we connect with the world around us. The following sections explore how social media changes the way we relate to one another as well as the communication tools used within these online interactions.
1 in 5 homes now have an Internet connection; 46 percent of people access a social network daily; Facebook has topped 800 million users; and 96 million tweets are written each day. The list of social media use statics appears endless and is extraordinary. In order to understand the world around us-which now includes social media-we must first create words.
Words enable us to attach meaning to an action, a thing, or an idea, which in turn shapes how we behave and respond towards these objects. In order to make sense of the current social media revolution, individuals have created new words.
For example, did you know that The American Dialect Society named "Google" the word of the decade? Can you guess what the word of the year is? (FYI it is ‘tweet.') No longer does the word Google only describe a search engine, but it is also a verb: Google me! The same holds true with the word tweet. Yes, I can post a tweet, but I can also engage in the act of tweeting.
Words carry a lot of power, and what we can discern by listening carefully to everyday conversations is that social media is changing the way we speak, act, and connect with the world.
Social media, specifically social networking sites, allow individuals to connect and stay connected at all times. No longer are there two distinct worlds-the real and the virtual. Rather, our lives exist in both places and spaces simultaneously.
Because of the blurring of boundaries, our separate offline networks co-exist online making communication both easier and more challenging. With a thin, if almost now-imperceptible, line drawn between our private and personal lives, individuals often encounter situations where too much is revealed to the wrong audience.
Furthermore, the word ‘friend' no longer means the same thing it did 10 years ago. As a result of this change, we need to alter the way we engage with "friends" and think a bit harder about the information we disclose online. Given these implications of online communication, not just communication scholars need to be critical of this communication tool; rather, all people need to be more critical consumers of this amazing yet not fully understood communication medium.
Leonardi is an Assistant Professor in the College of Business. Her research interests involve understanding how people articulate and communicate identities across cultures via social media. Specifically, she investigates how people negotiate personal, social, and work identities across cultures. At St. Ambrose, Leonardi teaches courses primarily in Principles of Public Speaking, Survey of Human Communication, and Communication and Technology.