Reading society

One of the roles of the media is providing a platform for reading society—-a window for people to observe what’s happening and make decisions based on what they see. That’s why social media are so exciting. They are an unfiltered peep show into the workings of a particular community; and at the level of meta analysis, they are a measure of the overall pulse of society.

The potential for social media to provide a community with this forum for messaging, discussing and deciding seems curtailed only by the noise factor, which is one of the most basic concepts of communications studies. Whether it be walled-gardens, cognitive competition or messages lost in the fray, this noise represents to me choice. Individuals have to choose which social media network to log in to, which thing competing for their attention to focus on, which source to seek out among the countless options out there.

That’s why new media, especially social media, is not just a technology problem, but a human one as well. What condition is more human than that of the choice-maker? The choices being made tell us something about ourselves. We learned what we could about society from our old sets of choices; now it is time to learn more. The world as we can know it has gotten more complex, so our understanding must grow more complex as well as we watch and learn how we respond to new forces acting on us in the world.

This is the reading of society that I get thanks to social media. Who could deny that new technologies give us new tools to understand people and communities better? Social media are like new (window)frames of reference, new perspectives, but ones that come with greater latitude for choice.

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