Is social media changing you?

Or is just that people are inherently social?

Seems like a bit of a no brainer when put as simply as that, but the media is awash with technologically or media determinist views like the one in the blog title.

Is the Internet changing the way you think?

Is facebook making your child depressed?

Is Google making us stupid?

Good grief! It’s enough to make me want to throw my Interweb out of the study window ;)

The issue of whether or not I think deterministically is one that I must consider upfront in my thesis because if I am determinist then that position may lead to me introducing positivist bias when conducting my research – claiming benefits for social media that may not be there. Taking a more humanist approach is a source of bias too, but one which is less likely to bias findings in this study.

If you regularly research the effects of technology, or make decisions based on technology research, you might want to consider this too. It’s a bit Meejah Studies 101 but the issue comes up every time some bit of new technology or media comes along…

Technological determinism vs. symptomatic technology

At the heart of this project is an argument of media determinism (McLuhan, 1964) or technological determinism (Veblen, 1921), (Chandler, 1995), versus a more humanist theory of media evolution.

Levinson’s anthropotropic theory seesmedia increasingly selected for their support of pretechnological, human communication patterns in form and function.” (Levinson, 1999, p. 41). But who other than a media academic, social media guru or Wired writer “logs onto the Web with the deliberate intention of being part of a new interactive global village that is obsolescing the voyeuristic village engendered by television?” (Levinson, 1999, p. 200).[1]

For this thesis technological versus social determinism is about trying to understand if the activity comes first or is the activity technology-driven? Does a ‘creative’ or ‘innovative’ person find an interesting technology and then work out how to use it – or are they actively searching for tools to help them work in new, and better, ways?

A hypothetical view such as ‘Social media is changing the way I make programmes.’ would be technological determinism.

A hypothetical view such as ‘I want to involve my audience in my editorial decision-making and am interested in technology that might help.’ is an opinion of technology that is symptomatic.

In ‘Television: Technology and Cultural Form’ Raymond Williams summarised the determinist view on television “If television had not been invented… certain definite social and cultural events would not have occurred.” (Williams, 1975, p. 12).

Williams also argues “If television had not been invented, we would still be manipulated or mindlessly entertained, but in some other way and perhaps less powerfully.” (Williams, 1975, p. 12)

If we substitute ‘social media’ for ‘television’ in the two quotes above then they both continue to make sense. A determinist would argue that the invention of the Internet, and subsequent social networking tools, has created a new set of conditions for social change and progress.

Someone taking the symptomatic view would argue that other forces are driving social change – for example what we refer to as postmodernism or the Information Age – and that the Internet has only acquired truly “effective status since it has become used for purposes which are already contained in this known social process.” (Williams, 1975, p. 13) – it has done this by evolving into what is commonly referred to as Web 2.0 or the social web.


[1] In the last 12 months, the social media conversation accompanying many television programmes, suggests a significant number of viewers wish to logon on to global, interactive, voyeuristic village…

Works Cited

Chandler, D. (1995). Retrieved January 31, 2012, from Technological or Media Determinism: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/tecdet/tecdet.html

Levinson, P. (1999). digital mcluhan. Routledge.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media. Routledge.

Veblen, T. (1921). The Engineers and the Price System. Kitchener.

Williams, R. (1975). Television: Technology and Cultural Form. London: Schocken Books.