The explosion of Facebook and social media in recent years has sparked plenty of interesting societal, psychological and economic questions:
Why do so many people willingly splash their lives across the web?
What does it say about privacy in 2012?
How is this explosion changing media, technology and other industries around the globe?
A great essay in the Atlantic by Nathan Jurgenson tackles all of those questions and more.
The big idea?
Social media — like photography and other technologies before it — is altering the way that humans look at the world.
Here's how Jurgenson puts it:
For those who use Facebook, whose friends are on the site and logging in many times a day, we have come to experience the world differently. We are increasingly aware of how our lives will look as a Facebook photo, status update or check-in. As I type this in a coffee shop, I can "check-in" on Foursquare, I can "tweet" a funny one-liner overheard from the table next to me and I can take an 'interesting' photo of the perfectly-formed foam on top of my cappuccino. It is easy; I can do all of this and more from my phone in a matter of minutes. And, most importantly, there will be an audience for all of this. Hundreds of the people I am closest with will view all of this and some will reply with comments and "likes."
Simply, I have been trained to see the world in terms of what I can post to the Internet. I've learned to live and present a life that is "likeable."
To Jurgenson — "social theorist of media" who is working on a dissertation at the University of Maryland on "self-documentation and social media" — this should come as no surprise.
Technology has always changed the way that we view and interact with the world, from the discovery of fire, to the invention of the wheel, to the high speeds of railroads, to the earth-centric-shattering miracles of the space program.
Living life on the web is just another step on that long technological march.