DIGITIZATION OF THE SOCIAL WORLD OR SOCIALIZATION OF THE DIGITAL WORLD?
From Hardi Yakubu
The internet has made information access easy, so easy that by the click of buttons, millions of statistics, research reports, business stuff, news etc are released and shared across the world every second. What is intriguing is that this information is shared by ways which make the internet a social tool. Social scientists have always maintained that human beings are social beings; that they are gregarious animals whose essence is only complete in a social context. For instance, one needs a family, a community, a society, basically a platform for interaction between himself and other people. In essence, a man has social needs which can only be met though social means or via a social platform such as indicated above.
But how is this ‘socialness’ of the human being expressed in a digital world? This need for social interaction has pushed human beings to use their brain potential to create avenues which have largely broken down the walls of geographic boundaries and distances that heretofore were incredible militating factors in communication. One of such avenues is the internet.
Is it not interesting the way the world can change and actually changes? In the years of old, people had to walk thousands of miles on foot. Then the automobile came to their rescue, narrowing distances and easing travel. Then came the airplane, further narrowing distances and making it possible for distances that took several hours to traverse to be covered within minutes: and then the mobile phone, making communication unprecedented.
And now there is the internet – a network of interconnected computers that has incredibly changed the information sharing and dissemination experience of the world. Today unlike the days of old where long distant communication was by letters and other hardcopy means, people communicate through electronic mail, read news, research and obtain information, shop, pay bills, bank, listen to music, watch movies, play games and make calls. It is estimated that 8 new people start using the internet every second and about 144 billion emails are sent every day. This shows the tremendous impact the internet is having on communication around the world. Little wonder then that the internet has grown tremendously.
The growth of the internet has been phenomenal. In 1981, only 213 computers were connected to the internet. By 2000, the number had overwhelmingly jumped to 400 million with more than 360 million users. By 2012, about 2.4 billion people used the internet, a 566% leap from the 2000 figure. It is estimated that by the end of 2013, about 4 in every 5 people will be on the internet. The implication of this is obvious namely increased access to information as well as production of same. This spate of digitalization of the world has ushered in a new epoch called the “information era”.
But the aspect of the internet that has made the digital world ‘social’ or socialized the ‘digital’ world is the emergence of social media. By means of this trend, the social aspect of the internet has been enhanced. By September, 2012, more than 1.4 billion internet users (47% of total internet users) were on social media. By the end of this year, this figure is expected to increase by 18% to 1.73 billion. At any moment in time, there are people who are either facebooking or sending tweets. Or they may be using LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest or any other social media sites. Or they may be using many of these at once.
The users of these social media platforms interact more personally with friends, family, loved ones, business partners, colleagues, classmates, project group members etc. You can practically stay connected to a friend of yours on facebook for instance no matter how far the person lives from you. And there is no break, you can check their updates, pictures of their daily endeavors, you can even chat with them 24/7. The question is “are these social relationships being digitalized?” Or perhaps “the digital media is rather being socialized”? Maybe both – social life has been digitalized just as much as digital media has been socialized.
The fact is that there existed social relationships before digital media emerged. But since their emergence, their use has extended social relationships and even enhanced them. Thus social relationships are the ones making use of social media and not the other way round. On the other hand, one may ask “which one is changing which?” or more properly “which of the two is making impact on the other?” It is undeniable that people have made friends through social media; some have even found “lovers”. Indeed, boyfriends and girlfriends who are not on social media are considered to be missing out big time. It is even worse if a boyfriend is using social media whilst this girlfriend is not and vice versa. Others have established business relationships that would otherwise have eluded them without social media. So social media are fast expanding social relationships – creating new ones and changing some existing ones.
The conclusion that can be drawn therefore is that there are two concurrent phenomena in this age – the digitalization of the social world and the socialization of the digital world. This reality has created a socio-digital world that is so far unparalleled in history. It however holds equally unprecedented opportunities for people and organizations.