“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...” Growing up and being caught up amidst the rise of the Electronic Age, now and then I am still amazed by how well the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities written up two hundred years ago has captured what is happening in our time. It is not that I am convinced the author Charles Dickens was able to foresee such a thing due to his massive intellect, but when you are the one seeing that new forms of technologies emerge, survive, and thrive, there is always this process you undertake to come to terms with the pros and cons of newly-born social media that comes along. Comparing with what traditional media provides for us, social media is no longer simply a tool for us to receive information from the world; it is more of a subtle mechanism that works in the form of Internet-based applications and requires our own participation. However, in light of many revelations of its downsides through the past few years, things have certainly gotten more complex than creation and sharing of user-generated content in virtual communities. Hence, regarding social media’s negative effect on users’ concentration, real-world interactions, and its questionable contributions to social disparity, traditional media has become a more favorable choice, as it allows us to become more initiative in our personal lives than social media does.
In this time when everyone has gone to lengths about using social media, it seems like we have always been fooled by its outer glamour, in spite of the fact that social media has always had a degrading effect on one’s focus and productivity in doing necessary things and fulfilling their obligations. When you’ve got a cellphone right next to you, for most people, it must be very hard to focus on what you need to do at the moment. In contrast, traditional media, including printed documents, published works, radio, broadcasts, etc., has always operated under a monologic transmission model, instead of focusing on strengthening itself through giving people access to common efforts and building mutual relationships. It then becomes quite clear that traditional media influence seems to be more manageable, as in the case that since you are the one who chooses to receive information in this way, you can always stop the information input right away in one single command, sometimes plainly by a click of the button. But social media, on the other hand, is created in a way that it can seep into our lives so deeply that it is difficult for one to get over once you get addicted to it, especially when you are deeply immersed in the excitement of feeling connected. This would in turn lead to deficiency in one’s efficiency, focus, and then every aspect of their lives. As what media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out, social media shapes the process of thinking as well as supplying “the stuff of thought,” and the Internet seems to chip away one’s capacity for concentration and contemplation, which are the two things that you can only be able to attain from deep reading via a traditional approach. Disappointingly, needs for convenience, which is often easily attained through modern-day social media, make it difficult for the majority to choose this slower, more deliberate way.
However, considering the bigger context, social media, in contrary to the traditional forms of media, actually has few real impacts on our daily life. As more and more social media platforms have been introduced, drastic decrease in face-to-face interactions has also become prevalent, but nothing more is particularly gained through the newly formed, alternative relationships that are supposed to be more preferable. Generally, the virtual relationships people strive to gain via the Internet are typically built around weak ties; due to trust and privacy issues, connections created through involvement with using social media platforms do not provide more depth but more breadth only. In real life, it is widely acknowledged that only deep relationships with less than fifteen people are effective in influencing the course of your life at a particular time period. Just as Malcolm Gladwell has argued that “social networks are effective at increasing participation ---- by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires,” taking Facebook for an example, the activism being presented succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice, but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. When all the attempts to do good via the social media platforms are still conceptual, it still has nothing to do with what can be brought forth in real life. In contrary, traditional media always acts through a one-way approach; without drawbacks induced by mutual ignorance typical in social media, it gets a better chance at spreading critical information and letting it take effect by directly molding the public’s minds.
As social media has become more and more prominent with the constant development of prototypical technologies, it is not unfair to say that it has changed many aspects of our lives at least in some ways. Due to its highly contagious quality, frequent usage of social media without proper self-control can be ruinous in terms of the harm it exerts on one’s focus, efficiency, and real-life interpersonal relationships. Additionally, the worst thing that can ever happen is that while it turns your life upside down at the moment, you may also receive the consequences from the good opportunities you’ve missed during these “lost” years in the times to come. Hence, traditional media, which allows more freedom and initiative in information-receiving, is more of a favorable choice for us to pick. But in the end, the real question is: Has or has not the media deprived us of the depth we could have attained in our social connections with others? Either the traditional media or the social media, how you handle them and how much influence you get from them in your life is up to you.