What is Social Media?

If I say social media what does that make you think about? Does the Facebook account you checked on your smartphone first thing you did when you woke up this morning comes to your mind? The page that gave you the most important news of the day: what that annoying girl you never liked in high school had for breakfast, and how a disturbing amount of the people in your social circle have already been up for hours to work out before going about their day (and so generously dumped their sweaty pictures all over your news feed.)  That’s a key word, news feed, meaning a feed of news, and now lets be honest, once in a while there actually is some  ”real news” on that feed that someone so generously shared with you, but most of the news your feed gives you are from, and about, your social circle.

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Maybe you are more of a twitter kind of a person, and this is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words social media. Twitter, a powerful tool for communication  that has been credited with aiding in revolutions, and even being talked about as a potential nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. A tool in which pictures and information feels like they are spreading at the speed of light. This rapid sharing of information also happens in Facebook, were a certain post can spread like an epidemic and be shared with lots of people in a short amount of time. Sometimes information spreading through social media is hard to obtain from regular media sources such as newspapers and television.  Times changes and so do media with it, sometimes the social media is now even cited as the source behind news in regular media. Social media can also be an important tool in navigating the modern job market,  both as in where the positions for work can be found and as in the forms you can market yourself as a future employee.

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Maybe it’s time that I introduce myself: Hi! My name is Sara and I’m an anthropologist, or to be more exact, I’m an aspiring such considering I’m still a student. When I look at social media from an anthropological perspective, I see social networks, (and a few narcissists), but that’s an mere opinion and I’m not allowed to make those unless I want to see my professor turn into “insert evil Disney villain of your choice here”.

The different ways of using these social media as part of a social network, is something that we anthropologists, and other fellow worshippers of humanities, like to call social capital. So what’s the purpose of social capital? Allan Smart sums it up like this: “It helps people resolve collective problems more easily, facilitates development, heightens awareness of our globally connected fates, fosters the flow of useful information and helps people cope with trauma and improve their health, find jobs and maintain businesses.” (2008 p.409)

social-capital-300x255If we take in consideration the way we use social media, as a mean of communication within our social circle, and that what’s considered useful information for one person might be irrelevant for the next, then the way we navigate through this information makes the idea of social capital and social media being about the same thing becoming an interesting aspect. Media that consist of its users social networking and social capital gathering are its users, and if you take away the users, the social networking and interactions stops and the feeds will be empty, the structure maintains but not its content. This content is something that a regular media still would have because it consists of it’s creators, the producers, journalists and publishers and are not dependent upon it’s readers to create their own news. If social media is a modern way of gathering social capital, then that means that social media is defined by you, and the way you use it, and not by it’s structural form. You, who ever you are, by using social media are being a small individual part of the pieces of the foundation that creates social media. So the next time you ask yourself what social media is, look into a mirror, because social media mirrors you and your social behavior in you attempt to gather social capital.

Source: Smart, Allan. 2008. Social Capital. Anthropologica, Vol.50, No 2(2008), pp.409-416. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.its.uu.se/stable/25605430)  Accessed:(2013-09-03)

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