Why do we use social networks?

The fear of loneliness is something as human as the condition of breathing, or loving. If you wonder, why do we use social networks? Think about how modern life technology, especially those focused on communication and information, have changed our concept of loneliness, making us feel in constant company of people anywhere on the planet.

The best known social network, with more than 2400 million users, was initially called TheFacebook. Many people do not know that Mark Zuckerberg soon decided to simplify the name of the tool that would make him one of the most successful men in the world.

The same way that younger generations may not know that before Facebook there was MySpace, one of the first services that would have characteristics of Social Network. But…

What’s a social network?

The concept of social network did not arise after computer science, it’s been around since psychology developed it. According to that discipline, it is “a social structure formed by people and entities connected and linked together by some kind of relationship or common interest”. The term is awarded to British anthropologists Alfred Radcliffe-Brown and John Barnes.

Social networks History

In the beginning of the Web, on the websites you could consult, interactivity was not predominant. What does this mean? The user could only obtain information through the interface, but providing it was somewhat more complicated. One of the few mechanisms available at that time was to send an email.

Afterwards, in a context that would soon be called «Web 2.0», social networks change the way in which the person relates to what they see on the screen. Each individual leaves information about himself, his groups, opinion and contacts. In 2006, Times magazine dedicated its edition “People of the Year” to YOU, referring to the relevance that the content generated by users acquired, thanks to the popularity of services such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, MySpace.

Time Magazine People of the Year 2006
Time Magazine´s People of the Year 2006Time Magazine described the new role of users on the Internet in the 2006 edition of “People of The Year”.

“In 2006, the World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter”

Time Magazine «Person of the Year 2006»

Then, we could say that that year the Web became a tool to group the small contributions of millions of people and make all of them matter. That is the analysis with which the magazine staff argued to justify that decision.

Social Networks, entertainment or utility?

Why do we use social networks? To get distracted from “real life” or in order to achieve certain goals related to it?

For both of them. While the playful component of social networks is preponderant (everyone wants to see cat memes), many times these services provide value on a professional, business or personal level. For example, LinkedIn today constitutes a very important exchange and hiring space for networking in the workplace.

Social Media and activism

Twitter may have played a role in the development of the so-called Arabic Spring, and has definitely provided a context for numerous protests and social movements. Among them, #MeToo, disseminated from a hashtag that began denouncing the sexual abuse of film producer Harvey Weinstein and spread like a series of scandals derived from misogynistic behaviors in work environments.

Ice Bucket Challenge, activism in social networks

Youtube has served as a framework for viral phenomena such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. After the apparent silly challenge of posting a video by throwing an ice cube or frozen water on the head, a wave of solidarity that raised $ 220 million for the study of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive disease that attacks motor neurons. Many celebrities joined the virtual choir, including Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and soccer player Lionel Messi.

But let’s not fool ourselves. While there are numerous examples of profitable use of social networks, most of the time spent on these applications is pure leisure. It is proven that they generate addiction: so much so that companies like Apple have begun to propose functionalities that help the user to regulate the time spent on the Internet. The latest versions of the iOS system have a “Time on Screen” monitor that indicates how long you have been on social networking apps, reading or productivity, a trend that takes hold in other operating systems.

Are social networks a business?

Yes, they are. And you probably wonder how they make a profit, if most are free? Because its financing model is not based on your money, but on your data, your attention and your desire to continue on their platform.

Its not a crazy thing to ask ourselves why are we still using social networks if we know all that. The more time you spend on Facebook, the greater your chances of exposing yourself to content paid by advertisers, whether in the form of advertising or subtler marketing. And so millions of dollars are made by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley.

But, should you believe all the information that comes to you through social networks? I can assure you that you shouldn’t, but it’s up to you to study and get to understand why. I’ll tell you more another day

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Gabriela M. Fernández

Journalist with a vocation, doesn't lose hope of learning how to program. Hardcore cinephile, TV-show and technology addict... we could say a full-fledged millennial.

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