It is difficult to imagine life without social media today. Facebook itself is possibly world's third largest country by population and possibly is on its way to displace India as second largest.
If China lowers its famed walls, it may even become world's largest nation. Such is the power of just Facebook. Add the various other components like micro blogging, blogging, video sharing, music sharing, book discussions and what have you, social media is a powerful aggregator of people.
It might be very surprising if I insist that Social Media is not a new phenomenon. Today at a broader level there is a battle raging between physical world and the virtual world. The virtual world is radically altering the physical world. In some cases physical world is trying hard to stick to the old order, but in many cases the virtual world is welcomed by the physical world.
Music and movies are two sectors that have seriously resisted the new order imposed by technology. It resisted the need for music to be mobile and exchangeable. Neither of the two were actually new desires. Music went mobile long ago; in fact mobile music was the driver of music going mass. Radio was the device that made music mobile. The music industry willingly adopted radio, as the industry could control radio. Exchange of music always existed, through records or cassettes or CDs. Internet changed everything. It took control out of the hands of music industry, and the industry resisted in tooth and nail, till it was brought to its knees and forced to surrender. Amazingly the same internet is the savior of music industry today. The entire distribution mechanism has transformed, it has become cheaper and efficient and music industry is singing again.
Technology is a dragon, managing the dragon and riding it requires very different skills.
Now back to social media. It did exist before the entire internet revolution. It did thrive before the internet revolution. And as in modern times it was not censored or controlled by any authority of any kind. Gossip is the true precursor of today's social media. Gossip is actually far more then precursor, it's the foundation on which the entire phenomenon is built.
Gossip is an activity that is primary to the entire mankind. Gossip transcends gender, social hierarchies and is essential to social grooming, affirming relationships, displaying bonds, and creating alliances. Our appetite for gossip is insatiable, and this appetite is neither random nor irrelevant. Gossip in general is a corollary of our disposition towards sociality, which helps us to figure out where we and all others stand in relation to each other.
Let's look at gossip and see how it figures in relation with Social Media
Gossip is a way of affirming one's likeability in the social group
Gossip helps you make more friends
Gossip spreads new idea and themes
Gossip is eminently enjoyable
Gossip counters authority
Gossip gets you more friends
Gossip can destroy relationships
Gossip can be detrimental
Ditto for Social Media.
Gossip is word of mouth, but today it rides the wings of word of mouse!
Though there is a difference between gossip and Social Media, and the difference comes from reach and accessibility. Gossip creates Social Capital. Social capital is the "glue" that holds societies together and refers to the quality and depth of relationships between people in a community. Social Capital helps merge the boundaries between private and public, between government and public and between authority and public. Eventually an enhanced social capital can do what gossip networks achieve in a small measure: a more responsive society. Once upon time there was word of mouth. Now the word of mouth rides the word of mouse.
What can be the future trends?
Clearly future evolution of social media will be influenced by the real world. Interest based networking has started to make its impact. Hobbies, common cause, government inaction, eradicating social evils are such areas where social media can evolve. Will it be similar to what we have today or will emerge into something very different is hard to say, but the future may be more connected and more engaged.
What will matter will be not a clash, but as coexistence between physical and virtual world.