And so the student becomes the teacher..

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, in a very dark cave off the coast of Scotland somewhere for the past gazillion years, you will be all too aware of the massive impact the internet has had on our modern lives. Whether you’re a technologically-challenged web-o-phobe or a blogoratti-elder, there is no denying that the internet has changed the way we work, rest and play in a huge way. Anything real life can offer us, the internet can do it better; staying in touch to shopping, paying bills to parenting, dating to..well you see where I’m going with this.
As the Media moves online, so do we. We’ve seen the newspaper, the CD, and even the good old household veteran the T.V kicked into shape by their modern, web-based equivalents. It seems the more we are online, the more we are controlled by our Media. Some worry that, while we can turn off our T.V, flick past the adverts in a magazine and get cosy on the back row to avoid the marketing tactics forced upon by the cinema, we cannot really avoid online advertising. It is flashing in our peripheral vision while we read our email, catching our eye as we surf the news feeds, and generally taking advantage of our passive state. But is the internet really a Media-controlled institution?
What if we, as the public, were holding the reins instead?
Forget about updating your status a few times a day or Skyping your Granny from Outer Mongolia, my friend. Citizen Journalism is where the party’s at- or at least going to be, it seems.

The term ‘Citizen Journalism’, I have to admit, does seem a bit dated. It brings to mind middle-aged, balding men who enjoy politics a bit too much, and social interaction not enough, complaining about pavement cracks and unemptied wheely bins in the ‘Have your say’ page of the local paper (which incidentally is right at the back between the Classifieds that no one wants to buy and the slightly dodgy premium-rate phone numbers that you flick past really quickly so you don’t look like a weirdo).

The idea, however, couldn’t be more new-age if it covered itself in pig intestines and called itself modern art.
The idea that we could be equipping the big News corporations with their exclusives, and be the one’s singlehandedly breaking big stories to the whole world is a notion which is fast becoming a reality.

In all honesty I would much rather read a blog written by an eyewitness, than a conventional news story churned from the wire by a bored newsroom reporter who favours cardboard-flavoured story-telling over getting the sack and a hefty lawsuit.

Time is money where news is concerned and the faster news can break, the better the story is. With platforms such as Twitter and Facebook being easily accessible on-the-go, we’ve got the upper-hand on even the biggest, baddest professional news corporations, and with more websites being phone-friendly, and phones becoming increasingly high-tech, the world is our stage.

Stories such as the ‘Nevsky Express’ and Perm Plane crash demonstrate how people are becoming increasingly more involved in news as opposed to being the passively on the receiving end. In one, we see how thousands reported as eyewitnesses, and in the other, how even when coverage was poor and people were injured, they still had the inclination to log on and let the world know. It really does demonstrate the role of the public in news and the role of social networking platforms in our lives.
The corner shop gossip has turned into a credible source of news. Life just got interesting!


Social networking takes on the cyber-postman.

E-Mail is an internet staple, that most of us couldn’t imagine living without but in a recent article from media hub Mashable it seems our hunger for social networking is fast outgrowing that for our inbox.

The statistics given, from Nielsen Online, show clearly how “Member communities” – particularly Facebook and Myspace, are sites we’re visiting more than any other.

At first glance, it seems a somewhat outlandish statement to make, even after wading through the facts and figures, but if looked at from an up-to-date perspective, it maybe isn’t as far-fetched as we may think.

Social networking is fast becoming a reputable way of conducting ourselves online. Gone are the early-teenage right-of-passage days of taking photo’s of yourself from an obscure angle sporting a ridiculously colourful clothing ensemble and a pout to rival that of Victoria Beckham. Myspace has moved over and a bigger, better and thankfully more demure (some may argue otherwise) Facebook has filled it’s shoes tenfold. The simple fact that a whopping 12.4 million 35-to-49 year olds joined up in 2008 alone surely suggests that we are using social networking to actually meet me people, and, well, network. I mean, come on, people THAT old, wouldn’t venture out of their armchairs and into the weird and wonderful world of the internet for nothing now, would they?

On a more serious note, however, does it not make perfect sense to contact someone via a Facebook message, if you’re on Facebook, than send an e-mail? Not everyone checks their inbox daily, but most log in to see what’s going down in social networking town at least once a day. Reliable AND a perfect excuse to check for updates at work. Brilliant. Okay, so we’re not quite digging Hotmail’s grave just yet, but it seems nothing can stop this social networking explosion. What next?

The end is nigh/ the beginning of something beautiful.

To most social networking is a relatively fresh idea. 2007 was when Facebook became a big social networking contender, and only a few years before that Myspace swept the younger generation into a cyber-frenzy of crazy-angled-self-portraits and profile-perfecting.

In a recent article by the Guardian, some experts have speculated recently, however, that our beloved social platform could be on it’s last legs, and even that it could be the last big boom the internet will see.

What next? Because of the public’s massive involvement with the growth and shaping of the internet, even the experts are kept playing the guessing game.

It seems only natural that things should progress, but what more can the world of social networking give us short of cooking our meals and hoovering our front rooms? You would think that every possible avenue has pretty much been explored, but then again, does the sheer volume of the internet itself suggest an immeasurable amount of possibilities?

Twitter mastermind Biz Stone suggested that not only the content but the very boundaries of social networking should be pushed. That, like Twitter, the cyber social scene should be more of a window into the lives of anyone and everyone, as opposed to us allowing certain people to view our profiles and visa versa. Unlike the ‘Friends’ concept of Facebook, Myspace and their cronies, we would be able to more or less spy on everyone, without so much as a ‘how do you do?’ in their direction.

It all seems like a good idea until we realise that were stuck in a potentially Big Brother-esque situation.
Do we really want a faceless cyber-space?
Isn’t half the pull our own craving to fulfil some sort of unwritten quota of attention and love? Would we bother telling the world our woes if the people we were throwing it out to, were not people at all, but the somewhat non-descript grey matter of the general public of the WWW?

Ba-da Bing!

Although not directly associated with social networking, the news surrounding the search-engine wars is definitely a pointer in the direction of a more online life.

Most of us take Google’s results for Gospel, as we take in the air we breathe; if it’s not there, it’s not anywhere. Right?
Possibly. But for how much longer this is the case is uncertain.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, obviously not satisfied with having all of his finger’s, thumbs, and goodness knows what else in the hearty pie that is the Media, has sparked controversy this week with his new preposition.

In layman’s terms, Murdoch owns news company’s such as Sky, and feels robbed of his precious pennies when people click through Google, and he doesn’t get anything from is except millions of people visiting his sites. Poor guy. Really do feel for him. With this in mind, he wants to team up with Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing (lovingly dubbed the ‘Poor man’s Google’) to sell them exclusivity to search traffic, by creating blocks on some news sights so that they cease to appear on the Google search results.

There has also been talk of charging for access to some news sights, but has so far been mostly speculation. The phrase ‘don’t run before you can walk’ springs to mind. People have to want his news sites in particular to even use Bing in the first place, let alone pay for the privilege, and with blogging booming, news doesn’t stay in one place for long. Surely Rupert’s got enough years in the business to know that charging people for a service they don’t need, probably don’t want, and could get somewhere else for free is pretty ludicrous?

That said, however, the internet’s phenomena’s and failures have shocked in the past, and this could well do the same, many are saying.

It is worth thinking about the fact that hundreds of print news publications have gone under recently because the big bad credit crunch has rendered the world luxury-less.
Never say never, I suppose.

For the greater good.

With any kind of great shift in technology there are always cynics who would rather dig their heels in than ride with the cool cats of the ‘technoratti’, and it is easy to see why; the negative prospects of a growth are endless if one chooses to dwell. There is a significant silver lining to this grey cloud of bad stuff, however- a tangible chunk of hope glittering away, restoring our faith in humanity click by click.

Take the case of the 16-year-old from Oxfordshire who made a full recovery after attempting suicide, because an online friend from the US alerted authorities of his intentions.

Online friendships are a somewhat murky and even slightly taboo area of discussion.

On the one hand the stories of Peadophilia, grooming, stalking, beg the question ‘has the world gone mad?’. But just as we begin to lose our faith in humankind, a story like this warms the cyber-heart somewhat.

When weighing up the pro’s and con’s of our online affairs it is easier to see the con’s, but the for many being able to hide behind their laptop brings a much needed relief from whatever stigma’s or self consciousness they experience in the real world.

If we are hundreds of miles away from someone, the chances are we are much more likely to confide in them things that we would be otherwise too embarrassed/scared to reveal face to face with a friend. Maybe it wouldn’t even be too bold to say that we use social networking to fight off loneliness. It may sound slightly 14-year-old-emo-esque, but I’d be the first to hold my hands up and say that when I’m chasing a deadline at 4am the pop of Facebook chat is undeniably comforting.

Although the example I used above is sad in it’s content, it is hopeful in it’s message; that online relationships don’t have to all possess sinister undertones. They can be a means of communication with something other than Wikipedia and Google, that can keep us sane while we work/browse/procrastinate, and even, sometimes, make a difference in our lives.

A darker side.

The purely innocent world of Social Network addiction is really all fun and games. There have been a few unfortunate cases (of people getting fired after being caught updating their status’ with morning-after-the-night-before gossip when they’d pulled a sicky claiming to be dying of something very contagious) in general, however, the worst that comes from surfing Facebook for too long is a missed deadline or seven or just a severe loss of social life/will to live.

There is a more sinister side creeping up on this lighthearted past-time, however, which is only set to grow as more and more of the world get connected.

The horrific murder of 17-year-old, Ashleigh Hall, dubbed the ‘Facebook killing’ is one of the most tragic of its kind. A man currently awaits conviction for kidnapping and killing Ashleigh who was a trainee nanny, after she went missing having told her parents she was going to stay with a friend.

The man in question was already on the sex offenders register, yet could portray himself as whatever he chose, be anything he wanted to whoever would listen; roaming the internet for vulnerable women to pry on.

Since the boom of MySpace in the early noughties, there has been no end of news stories about young girls running away with men they met online, and with the rise of mobile internet, its only going to get harder to keep tabs on childreen and teen’s online behaviour; it’s no longer merely a case of keeping an eye on the family computer. Like every new bit of shiny technology, social networking has it’s pro’s and con’s, but with such a large risk looming for the younger generation, is it worth attempting to prevent people like Chapman getting online? Is it even something which could be policed? Probably not.
It seems this fashion could go one of two ways; it’ll either be over as quick as it started and we’ll find something else to occupy our dinner hours, or it’ll continue to grow until it truly is a large portion of out of the metaphorical pie that is life. Chances are the latter will occur.

It is not only the younger generation that need to watch out, either. Long gone are the days of catching someone’s eyes over the bowls lawn or clashing dentures at the dance hall; the older generation are also logging on now more than ever to find online love with sites such as Plenty of Fish and, aswell as the more media-savvy younger generation. Again we are seeing more and more stories of people being scammed by their online acquaintances. It seems everyone is vulnerable.

The first step towards beating addiction is admitting you have a problem…

Take Windows Stuff with You

In an article in The Daily Telegraph last week (get all the nitty gritty facts and figures here), it was claimed that the average person spent a bum-numbing 70 and a half hours on Facebook in the last 12 months. My initial reaction to this statistic was along the lines of “SEVENTY HOURS?! And a HALF?! I could have probably walked around the world, built a house, and listened to the entire Micheal Jackson back catalogue 7 million times in 70 hours!” But then, when I actually thought about it, the grim realisation hit me that my own personal figure, and probably many of those around me, who are also bored and in further education, is much, much higher. I am logged into Facebook for all of the time I am on a computer, ever. And probably check my phone every couple of hours..or so. Albeit not being constantly browsed, the site is still there in the corner of my eye for a lot of my day. How incredibly sad.
Right, got to go…pages need to be refreshed and status’ updated. No rest for the wicked..

A strictly ‘need to know’ basis.

So we’ve established that the internet is fast becoming a must in modern life, but to what extent are we dependent on this cyber social hub?

Very, apparently.

Facebook claims:

“There are more than 65 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.
People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are almost 50% more active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
There are more than 180 mobile operators in 60 countries working to deploy and promote Facebook mobile products”

Many of us who are Facebook addicts in disguise will convince ourselves that we’re merely logging on when we’re at home, at the office, and at a loose end in general.
But being able to log-in the likes of Facebook and Twitter via our mobiles, brings about the need for a whole lot more excuses.

Again, we see celebrities updating their status’ here there and everywhere, giving us our own personal look into a world to which we would otherwise have no access. In itself, this is interesting. People want to know who got drunk at what awards.

Your average bear’s life, however, is significantly less exciting.

Is it imperative to let everyone know that the man sat next to me on the bus smells like a urinal? Well, apparently so.

Facebook mobile has become as much a guilty pleasure as gossiping over the photocopier or eating several hundred chocolate coins for breakfast on Christmas morning, even when you’re 35.

The demand to be up to date with our chosen social networks is getting so large, that we just can’t live without it, it seems.

In theory it seems sad, pointless, and basically just a gargantuan waste of time (unless you’re a student, in which case you’ve almost definitely got nothing more productive to do).
In reality, this is also true. But yet we can’t stay away.

So what is it about these kinds of sites that draws us in – and more importantly, keeps us there?

The strange thing is that I wouldn’t dream of texting my Mum telling her how ridiculous my hangover is this morning, just as you would probably not feel the need to inform your best mate that you’re going to get a shower then watch Jeremy Kyle.
Yet, I have no qualms about updating all 231 of my friends (of which I am in regular contact with about 30) on the progress of my morning-after-the-night-before.

Is it some kind of weird release that we get from the idea that we can broadcast the boring monotonous tasks of everyday life, and in that, make them seem less soul-destroying and thus, feel better about said mundane monotony?

Some claim that sites such as Facebook are the dawn of the death of good, old fashioned conversation. Others, however, argue that they are a portal into the rest of the world, with infinite prospects. That it a common interest that can somehow bring people who would be otherwise culturally cut off, together.

Whatever the opinion, the fact that the internet is less and less becoming separate from our everyday lives is one that is for the most part, undeniable. The lovely little bubble of escapism that we could sit in so as to procrastinate from ‘real’ life is not so much burst, as growing to accommodate us in the strangest of places, in any situation we choose.

Have a click on the poll below, and let’s see the damage.

Bull Twit(ter)

Stephen Fry. To most, the posh man off QI who even working class people think is great because he talks about sex a lot and loves Twitter more than any other. To Jan Moir, however, he is Hell incarnate with an expensive tie and an iPhone.

Like everybody else in the world who has nothing better to do, I too (like Stephen Fry, if not because of Stephen Fry) have a Twitter account.

I, too saw his angry torrent of Jan Moir-related Tweets build gradually throughout the day of 22nd October 2009, infiltrating my sparse Twitter board of updates with the most, beautifully fluent, albeit vicious, rage.
I clicked, I saw, I didn’t really see what the fuss was about, to be frank.

What did strike me though was how, peculiarly and quite worryingly, I was more angry about the article before I read it.

It showed me in the most basic and garish way, that I, too was a social networking sheep. I had already taken the side of Stephen Fry before I gave the poor woman a chance. A chance which she decidedly did not deserve but that’s not really the point I’m getting at.

The PPC to date, has had an alleged 21,000 complaints regarding the notorious article Moir wrote about Stephen Gateley’s death, and the article itself a humbling 1601 comments (go Jan!).
Now, for a start, I’m not sure that there are even 21,000 people in the world who would willingly pick up the Daily Mail, none the less read the Dear-Diary-with-a-thesaurus of Ms Moir. So the complaints, obviously must have come from an outside influence.

Cue Stephen Fry (again). He actively encouraged people to complain by posting the link to the Press Complaints Commission AND The Daily Mail website itself.

Being the king of the hill in Twitter-land meant that, of course, people complained. They then posted the link into their update, which people clicked on. Who then complained. I think you see where I’m going with this.
Several Facebook groups and ‘fan’ pages were made and the bandwagon continued to grow, with the story becoming global in no time at all.

The point is, that Gordon Brown could have gone on every Freeview channel live simultaneously, asking people to complain about Jan Moir’s article, and the PPC would have probably seen more complaints about him being on all Freeview channels at once and forcing his boring voice and undeniably strange breathing-in thing that he frequently does on the nation.

In a way, Stephen Fry did have the upper hand.
a) The British public do love to complain
b) He’s Stephen Bloody Fry (Plus no one knew Jan Moir, and to add insult to injury her profile picture was horrible).

His online influence is phenomenal, let’s make no bones.
He was just a clever man with a nice voice who made rubbish documentaries about snails and frogs worth watching, and through Twitter, he has become a cyber God.
I mean, who doesn’t want to know what a posh well-travelled man off the telly does all day? I know I do. His sharp with and constant sexual references are an addition to the entertainment, I won’t lie to you.
The man seems to have built a virtual empire off the back of a site that wasn’t very popular because it was just like Facebook only without the pictures. Like The Very Hungry Caterpillar in black and white.

The influence of the media in our everyday lives has been inevitable since the first newspaper was published, but with Social Networking comes a whole different type of relationship, where we suddenly have the chance to be the hand that feeds, as opposed to the fed.

The fine line

“We need others. We need others to love and we need to be loved by them. There is no doubt that without it, we too, like the infant left alone, would cease to grow, cease to develop, choose madness and even death.”

~ Leo Buscaglia

The vast, colourful and ever-growing
landscape of that God-like powerhouse that we fondly refer to as the ‘Media’ is integrated into our Western lives so much so, that was it taken away, we would surely perish at the mercy of the beige, nondescript monotony of everyday life.

Okay, so maybe it is slightly over-dramatic to suggest that society would be on it’s knees if Facebook, Twitter, Bebo or Myspace crashed for a day. But in all honesty, we would shed an emoticon tear or two for the lack of pointless interaction we would experience without our favourite social networking sites.

Whether you’re a closet poet, an armchair activist, a gaming GOD or just a casual P.C. papparazzi, spying on the rich, famous, or ‘bored at work’ and chuckling in an evil-yet-contented manner, the internet’s plethora of these type of sites has everything we want and more to keep us increasingly logged in to online life.

The question I am posing, however, is this: Is our involvement in this big, bad, glittery inter-world getting just too much?

Have we crossed that electrical wire-width of a line between reality and fantasy?

Are we – as Chandler from Friends once wisely said – “so far past the line that the line is a dot” to us?

From celebrity-induced mini-revolutions to your average Tom, Dick and Harry’s appearing out of near obscurity to the bright lights of Z-list fame and fortune; the age old ‘world-is-your-stage’ chestnut is becoming evermore a realistic thing.

To be so involved, as we are in this day and age, in this social networking phenomenon cannot come without it’s downfalls. The views and ideals on which our very culture is built, were created by a rather more ‘active’ society. It could be, although bold, realistic to suggest that, if the way we communicate with one another changes dramatically, then surely the way we think and feel and function in society follows suit. I am not quite talking in terms of The Matrix or parallel universes here however It would surely be ignorant to think that this online boom could sail happily through it’s era without influencing the world around it.