Decades ago, when an important event is happening in an area – be it a natural disaster, social uprising, or an election campaign among others, we sit in front of the radio or television to wait for newscasters spill out the details, while we listen to their vivid descriptions of the event or watch the images captured or videos flash on our screens. If you are in far flung places, where it is expensive to own an electrical gadget to receive microwave signal, you rely on word of mouth or postal service, delivered to you in one piece of paper where you sometimes need to decode it, delivered Romeo and Juliet style (remember the young priest who was delivering a letter from Romeo to Juliet, about his plan to fake his suicide?).
Time has changed incredibly fast, that sometimes we forget to hold reign. It passes by so fast, that we sometimes get caught in its whirlwind of technological advances. Your iPad3 launched earlier this year has become a little less attractive when Apple recently launched iPad4 together with the iPad mini. Android phones, tablets, notes, etc are launched almost every phone (oh well, probably I am exaggerating… but hey, I can’t even track the models, each brand comes up when I used to work in one of the telecom giants here in Singapore, and I can count the number of mobile phone / gadgets brands and models, and can even memorize it by heart). Then, with these smart gadgets coming up, new interfaces, new and better user experience, applications for these gadgets get developed almost every second – one to suit each need we have, from entertainment, news, music and even to cooking and organizing our wardrobe. Even education has taken a twist and has become more online and main stream, where big universities offering courses thru streaming or downloaded files thru an application store. With the advent of social media, which only started to share what we like, what is happening in our lives, or more aptly for facebook – to rate university girls… it has evolved into something powerful – social media can deliver any form of information at your doorstep, social media can make or break you.
Little do we know that social media existed long before. There is the classic snail mail – the powerful tools were pen and paper. Then, the rotary dial telephone. My family was one among a few to have the analog gadget. My mother had it in the late 60s / early 70s as it was necessary for her newly started business. I grew up using it and having to share the same line with another party. Though at most times, it was a little annoying to know that someone listened to your conversations, but it was fun to make friends with the other party and sometimes did the same, i.e. listen to their conversations. I miss those times when as a kid, I would cover the mouthpiece to avoid being heard but little did I know that the other party could even hear my heavy breathing. Then, there was the snail mail initiative of the United Nations of making friends with kids from around the world. How it works is that you receive a post from the UN, and normally it already contains a list of youngsters’ names from all over the world like Brazil, the UK, the USA, etc. You can decide whether to send a mail to one name in the list or not, but you have to add you name at the end of the list and send it back to anyone listed in there or to someone else you know. I vaguely remembered the title, but could clearly remember holding a long list of names of youngsters who have written their contact details, and looking for penpals around the world. I was not worried of receiving prank mails at that time. There was this sense of trust on that initiative and I didn’t think twice of putting my own details. It was fun receiving such list and knowing that you will have a friend in another part of the world, after a few weeks (you know how snail mail works back then, right?). In any case, I’m still in touch with my friend from Brazil thru nothing else, but Facebook.
In secondary school, I was introduced to portable radio, where I hit a certain frequency and I talked to random strangers or sometimes with my friends. I was then introduced to a different form of lingo – Q5 means that person is cute, etc. It was fun when I arrived in school and shared my conversations with friends. Then, I started to use chat rooms, ICQ, AOL messengers, and finally friendster. Boy, sharing photos and whatever was happening in your life knew no boundaries. We had the internet and friendster made it easier to communicate with friends from various parts of the world. Well, it was not that easy like what we have now as I had to use a dial up to connect to the internet, which again shared the same line as residential telephone. You need to shout to someone using the phone to stop using it or put a note on the telephone unit to not use it while you are hooked to the internet.
Now, with the advent of high speed Internet, wireless access, mobile networks, 3G and soon 4G… we can access information and send information real time. Coupled with various applications on the phone, capturing, consuming and sharing information become more fun and exciting. We become more eager to share this kind of information with people, with friends or with our ‘followers’. Sometimes, we also tend to forget that it also entails great responsibility.
In the recent natural disaster that hit the eastern part of the US, according to Reuters, people did not solely rely on news agencies but relied on social media. Even news agencies used social media to capture, consume, and disseminate information. Ordinary citizens have become ‘newscasters’ over night. Powered by powerful apps, they shared news even at real time. Twitter became the lifeline of people hit by Frankenstorm Sandy. Instagram brought visual display of mews. Facebook became a tool to share our stories and concerns of people affected by the storm. The same happened, too, last year in Japan, when social media became a powerful tool to deliver the news of the tsunami and its after effects.
It is inevitable that there will be people who will try to take advantage of social media and other people’s vulnerability, but people have grown to be more mindful and intelligent in knowing what’s real and what isn’t. We become our own watchdogs and we keep people being responsible. Social media becomes our voice heard in all parts of the world. Hence, we should not take social media lightly. It can lift a spirit or break a soul. It can make or break us. We need to use with a greater sense of responsibility.
Sources: Reuters, NY Times, Huffington Post, Wikipedia