Rewind back 10 years, before the idea of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube became a reality. The thought that people might someday spend more than half their day on a website such as Facebook was unthinkable. These social networks sites, along with hundreds more, were just a spark in designers’ mind. Social networking has made many effects upon society. With almost anyone having access to a computer, it has become easier to connect virtually with one another. The constant use of this kind of technology has proven to be beneficial but also harmful to us as a whole and to our humanity. When we contact one another through these sites we are limiting ourselves emotionally. It is not possible to describe social networking without considering the current status of the Web, which is commonly defined “2.0”. The biggest innovation in Web 2.0 is the possibility for users to directly and easily create contents, even if they do not possess technical skills. This content production is continuous and the social networking sites that are seeing strong growth are continually refreshed by user generated content. In particular, all the software tools that deal with digital communities are available for free and are very easy to use; as a consequence, every user can add or modify contents, search for existing ones and be part of a large number of communities. Everyone can be an author. Social networking represents a big resource for e-learning, because of its big impact on the World Wide Web. In fact, the social networking online services implemented a new model of knowledge management, totally based upon the worldwide voluntary contribution of users.
But to what extent is social networking powerful for distance education? It is very interesting to point out that the average age of social networking users is strongly and quickly decreasing; the new generations seem to be extremely familiar with this kind of approach to the Web. According to a survey by the Pew Internet & 7 American Life Project (2010), “55 percent of teens report having created a personal profile online and an equal number regularly use social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. Of those, 91 percent use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently. With all that screen time, students are acutely attuned to – and sometimes more comfortable with – living in the digital world.” Technology has changed the world as we know it and our lives today are much different than those of our recent ancestors.
Computers, specifically the use of the Internet, have become almost necessary, and can prove to be very beneficial in daily life. A social networking service is a website that allows individuals to construct a profile, provides free space and software tools which allow creating networks of people. As scientists start to study our newfound connectivity, some worry that we’re heading for a massive friend-bender. “It can be exhilarating, at least at first, to connect with a long-lost friends.” says network science expert Steven Strogatz, PhD. “The distinction between genuine friends and an acquaintance is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don’t really care about.” (Marsico 2010) It is a growing confusion between our weak ties and our strong ties. Electronic relationships make it easy for “friends” to misrepresent themselves – always showing their best sides. High-speed connecting may even affect the way we react to people. People are always trying to stay up to date and even a few missed tweets could make them feel as though they are not involved and or missing out.
Our society has become dependent on the immediate response from others. “Over 50% of people learn about breaking news on social media and 49.1% of people have heard false news via social media” (Ruffes 2012) Social networking sites spread information faster than any other media. Social media enable the spread of unreliable and false information. “13 million users said they had not set or did not know about Facebook’s privacy settings and 28% shared all or nearly all of their posts publicly. 67% of federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals surveyed think “social media helps solve crimes more quickly.”” (Olson 2012) Social networking sites lack privacy and expose users to government and corporate intrusions. On the flip side, law enforcement uses social networking sites to catch prosecute criminals. “Those who use social networks more often show more narcissistic tendencies while those who have a strong social network presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviors, mania and aggressive tendencies.” (Hinduja 2011) The use of social networking sites is correlated with personality and brain disorders, such as the inability to have in-person conversations, a need for instant gratification, ADHD, and self-centered personalities, as well as addictive behaviors. Social networking sites harm employees’ productivity. “51% of people aged 25-34 accessed social media while at work. Two-thirds of US workers with Facebook accounts access the site during work hours. Even spending just 30 minutes a day on social media while at work would cost a 50-person company 6,500 hours of productivity a year. 51% of American workers think work productivity suffers because of social media.” (Simmons 2010) One concern with social networking is that it allows children who are too young to access material on the Internet that they would not have seen otherwise.
“According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of teenagers use social networking sites with almost two-thirds of them going online at least once a day. A 13-year-old age requirement on sites like Facebook and MySpace does not stop those who are younger from lying about their age.” This means that these children may be exposed to things that they may not have seen otherwise. For all of the negative aspects of social networking there is a positive one. Although users may be at risk by posting their personal information, they can control who sees it. Although social networking is allowing ‘stalking’ and other suspicious activity to take place with little effort, it is also making it easier for users to connect with each other in ways that are changing the world for the better. The ability for adults to connect with people in their past, people they figured they would never hear from again is just one example of a benefit. Also, from a business standpoint, the interconnectivity of social networking is creating a new kind of feedback that is instantaneous and can help companies increase their overall productivity. The ability for people to always be connected to each other is changing the world and making it an easier accessible place. In a world where information is key, social networking makes that information much easier to obtain and share. The internet has in effect become such an ingrained and important part of our everyday lives that it’s having a very tangible detrimental effect on our well-being. Profiles often portray an idealized, highly considered version of one’s true self, which can engender feelings of inadequacy amongst those looking on. A friends life highlights and milestones might seem a long way off to many which can make them feel as if they’re missing out or being left behind. In this respect, social networks can act as an uncomfortable mirror against which we unconsciously measure ourselves and determine our own sense of worth. They are also a reminder of the benefits of true social interaction, aka meeting up with someone and talking to them. The internet has made connection so easy that it’s taken for granted. Whereas we all might idealize the strength of the virtual ties that bind us all together; the reality is that technology is gradually eroding away at the real value of what it means to actually connect with someone else. Fast forwarding to now that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube has become a reality. It is almost unthinkable for someone to not have one of these social networks. The advanced technology of social networking exposes users to a large amount of risks; however, the benefits and connections created by social networking create a new world with new opportunities. The risk of these sites remains a common fear for a lot of parents, but the benefits discussed are more than enough of a reason to allow your child to be a social networker. This paper has provided a greater understanding of social networking, has helped identify the popularity and generational growth of these sites
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