It is trite to say that society and our world are at a communications crossroad. The fact that you are reading this post is proof of the rapid change that we have experienced. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has recently referenced the newness of the Internet. A perhaps obvious observation is that the currently expanded media and social media platforms present the opportunity to build or destroy relationships from the personal to the international level. How united or divided will the world be in a century? Certainly media will greatly impact future unity or disunity.
Contemporary media connects remote persons and places instantly. This may be used for many purposes. One usage reduces the mystery and resulting fear of the unknown "other." Another usage emphasizes differences by placing these differences bluntly and without explanation in one's face. Consequently the same tools may be used to build or to destroy.
Contemporary social media creates fads, fame and fortune and potentially gives everyone the opportunity for "fifteen minutes of fame." The temptation is to become ever more outrageous and divisive to obtain and maintain the spotlight. Trusting individuals are manipulated. At some point this will surely breed a cynical ignoring of extreme messages not unlike the fable of the boy who cried wolf. However, some messages that are truthful and urgent will not be taken seriously. Sorting the ocean of competing messages becomes a monumental task. Consequently message rating and summation tools will become ever more important to individuals connected to the Internet information world. In contrast to saturation, this same media may also provide the platform for isolated individuals to find common connections that would have been very difficult to establish in the past. Finding others with similar opinions and interests is a staple of the online dating platforms.
Media, especially social media, grants everyone a soapbox. This is a positive for the marketplace of ideas. This is a negative when a confusing chatter emphasizes the outrageous and magnifies a sense that there is no consensus on even the color of a blue sky.
Will the expanded media and social media be used responsibly? When a reported real or invented action in one locality has the potential to produce hatred on the opposite side of the world, one wonders if there is any hope for building relationships. A small spark by a lone actor, perhaps created out of sincere conviction or perhaps to grasp at pretended power, creates a raging inferno that only confirms our worse beliefs about that "other" group existing within our society or in an international setting. Will a methodology akin to "like" and "dislike" votes help one weigh the relative groupings and significance of globally held common beliefs? Will expanded technology reduce the opportunity for misunderstandings or is humanity doomed to repeat the Old Testament account of the Tower of Babel? Time will tell.
Humanity seems to continually build and destroy. Will media and social media merely create more divided and destructive groupings or will it nobly build expanded understanding and relationships that transcend comparatively trivial differences created only by location and language translation? We may be simultaneously optimistic and fearful concerning the future. There is a critical strategic question for thoughtful consideration that has political, business and social implications. In the long-term, is the expansion of media and social media, on balance, building or destroying relationships?