Is Social Media the “Internet?”


Recently I watched a clip with Alton Brown in which he discussed the challenges of presenting his message to audiences in the modern context of mixed mediums (books, internet videos, television shows, etc.). Listening to his analysis of how the world of entertainment and information delivery has changed resonated strongly with me. I realized that I myself had not truly reflected on the role of the internet in, not only my life, but in society, over the past 10 years. So the following is part analysis and part reflection on what I take away from the conversation from Alton Brown and Ed Levine as well as my own musings.

What is the Internet? How does it fit into our modern, instant, smart-phone driven society? Speaking from my own experience, the internet has certainly evolved. We were first connected to the internet in the mid to late 90s, and of course it was good old dial-up. It was a particularly great occasion in the late 90s when we were able to upgrade to a 56k modem. Of course, we still had one phone line. The fact that it was event to log on to the internet made the internet a cohesive entity. This sounds strange given the fact that, by definition, the “internet” is a matrix of multiple computers, connected through some type of network. The point is that if I wanted to accomplish anything on a computer beyond my own hard drive, I had to log on to the internet and go from there.

With the advent of high speed DSL internet and eventually wireless internet, the “world wide web” became more accessible at a more rapid pace. Now one could simply logon by opening a browser. The face of communication changed as well. Sure, e-mail was and is still a thing, but now instead of going to chat rooms, we had programs (such as AIM) that could stay open on the computer constantly for instant contact with any other person.

Now, we have reached the pinnacle with the introduction of the smartphone. Any video, piece of music, information, website, etc. is available at the touch of a screen (not button) on a device that 99% of us carry at all times (percentages not based on scientific research).

But here is the crux of what got me thinking: What role does social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. play within this thing called the internet? Social media has developed into a sort of second reality, used by people as a buffer between the non-digital world and the fountain of information known as the internet. We no longer think in terms of connecting to others via websites, but rather instant connections through profiles. It is through these online profiles that we share new information (the latest Upworthy piece, Huffington Post article, or occasional fake article passed as reality) directly with others in this secondary medium. Even the notion of running a blog, such as this one, hearkens back to the day when individuals ran his or her own website. Now, the medium of the information is irrelevant. One could become well known for publishing videos on YouTube, posting humorous tweets to Twitter, and artsy photographs to Instagram, with these facts functioning as the carving of one’s own space in the digital realm.

How we as humans use this tool called the “internet” has certainly changed, but the question is how it has changed. Has it simply become more streamlined in the recent decade, or shifted entirely into something that humans are more accustomed to, such as the interpersonal interactions of social media. Is it possible that with the vast unprecedented wealth of information that is available, we have also lost our collective ability to discern such information?

In closing, I am still assessing this question myself, hence the rambling nature of this post. What do you think? What does the internet look like now? I think we can safely say that the advent of social media completely changed the way humans use the internet, but to what end? Thanks for reading.


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