Social Media Marketing

Atchisson: Essay on Social Media and Society

Amy Atchisson, from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, was on of our entries for this years scholarship competition. Amy wrote about the effect social media has on society.

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Technology is awe-inspiring. The world in this early part of the 21st Century has

advanced leaps and bounds beyond what connection pioneers Marconi and Bell could ever have

possibly imagined. With just the touch of a button or the click of a mouse, anyone can be

connected almost anywhere in the known world texting, tweeting, posting, Skyping…the options

are only as limited as the user’s imagination. We are connected as never before, but one has to

wonder at what price? Being connected externally does little or nothing to guarantee an internal

connection of the mind, heart, or ultimately soul. Without any or all of the components, social

networking is the digital equivalent to screaming at the top of one’s lungs in the middle of a

crowded mall at Christmastime – some may look and listen, but none will truly see or hear.

Those components come not from the availability or absence of technology. Those components

are the bi-product respect, manners and, civility.


The social contract has long been understood to be the unspoken glue that holds together

any semblance of civility in a society. It is the silent promissory note that ensures one may walk

down a sidewalk without being accosted by another unduly. While there have always been some

willing to break that contract to suit their own means – the criminal element, the rude, or the

merely ignorant – this pact has served society well. The social contract in the electronic age,

though, is under assault like never before. If one was to doubt such an assertion, he would only

need look at the comments section of any article, scan general discussion forums on a web page,

or add a hashtag before any given topic on Twitter. Even something seemingly as innocuous as

Facebook is not immune. Although users read names of the familiar or strange that may or may

not be accompanied by a photographic avatar, somehow the idea of distance is reinforced. As

such, users often feel free to say things so vile and reprehensible that they would, more than

likely, never dare to say to someone in person. It seems as if the screen before them serves the

dual purposes of filtering any sense of decorum and enhancing a crass boldness. “Debates” are

little more than capitalized shouting matches. “Retorts” are generally little more than sessions of

playground name-calling. Even “rejoinders” tend toward the vulgar. While all of these are

generally laid at the feet of technology, they actually speak to a bigger problem.


Manners and respect have been on the decline for decades. One need only speak with

Baby-Boomers or members of The Greatest Generation to hear how culture has “gone to Hell in

a handbasket”. While the observations of elders are at best dismissed as quaint or at worst

ignored as irrelevant, such observations are not necessarily wrong. The concepts of men opening

doors for ladies, pulling out chairs for them, or even tipping are not merely ignored by current

generations, they were never known in the first place. The same could be said for young women

to whom modesty, gentility, and politeness are as alien of concepts as bustles, parasols, and

churning butter. Somewhere along the line one of two things happened: either people mistook

leaving behind civility and respect for “progress” or they believed that bypassing those ideas

made them hip or edgy. In either case, individuals suffered and, as a whole, society ultimately

paid the price. Even the old phrase “honor among thieves” seems somehow naïve when the

concept of “honor” itself seems to have no place in our modern world outside the military and,

perhaps – and even then, only perhaps – golf.


On roadways drivers yell at, cut-off, and gesticulate perversely to their fellow

commuters. The entrance to any public building is likely to see people jostling for position to get

to the door before another, even if it means throwing a body check into someone else to do so.

Perhaps the most egregious ill of all is the general inability of people to converse anymore. One

is more likely to find two people seated side-by-side pecking and swiping furiously at their

phone rather than engaged in actual conversation. This is the root of the problem with social



At its core, the term “networking” presupposes a genuine understanding of the term.

Previous generations understood it to mean making connections via handshakes, the exchange of

contact information, and actually speaking to a person. Social-networking only shares the faintest

hint of that process via the virtual handshakes of pokes and posts, screennames and avatars, and

tweets or status updates. All of the above can be utilized in relative anonymity and with almost

no accountability. Insults may be hurled, memes can be created, and “thumbs down” may be

voted with no more need for afterthought than berating a newscaster on the television screen –

after all, she cannot hear you either. When no one has mastered the basic fundamentals of civil

discourse and respectful co-existence, or worse still when no one even knows enough to realize

those are even things, then all their interactions – actual or virtual – will suffer. This is only

exacerbated when those interactions are multiplied one thousand-fold online from behind the veil

of anonymity. How are we to expect someone who doesn’t understand the fundamentals of polite

conversation in person to apply those same basics to a digital discourse?


In the end, social networking is not evil. It is not even the root of evil. It is merely another

tool being misused and abused by those too base and uneducated to know any better. At some

point or another, it is reasonable to suspect that Marconi and Bell had similar observations about

those who utilized their inventions. In the end, though, it is not the inventions that are the

problem, it is the conventions employed that reveal our shortcomings as a people, a society, and


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