The idea of community has been redefined year after year. It has grown, modified itself and expanded in its scope to include sections of people who are strangers to each other in the world. As we all know the idea of community is no longer limited to formal institutions of education such as school and college, to the people one grew up with, to immediate family, or to people one bumps into at a painting class or a yoga class or at the church or at a common friend’s house. The idea of community now includes similar places and opportunities for people to meet, bond and get to know each other and is helped, supported and even given new dimensions to by activities in the virtual world. It’s almost like people are living two lives—one for themselves and one for posterity. There is new lingo in place to instantly communicate with others in the virtual world. Popular hashtags, trending topics and terms which work to strengthen the bond within the virtual community are everywhere and a part of how we talk to our friends as well. Nothing can be more important than being “all caught up” as Instagram always tells us when we scroll down to see what the others are up to.
Copywriter and digital marketer at www.talkwalker.com, Meg Carpenter, gives us a perceptive and comprehensive definition of social media in an article she has authored on the site titled “Glossary of Social Media Terms”. She says that social media is “a collection of online communication channels encouraging input from communities, interaction between users, the sharing of information, collaboration, opinions, rants, and fun - lots of fun. Online tech that lets people publish, chat, and share content online. Tech that has brought - a whole new language.” In doing so, Carpenter hints at community building and the presence of a world that allows people to shed shyness and document their lives the way they want to creatively and boldly.
This new online community and the portals it has come into being through, for example Facebook and Twitter, is what advertisers study to understand their consumers’ behaviour patterns, their preferences, affinities and choices. #Sociallistening is an important tool today for brands and advertisers who want to understand the mind of the consumer, to understand the conversations that are taking place around products and services in the market, and to understand how the competition is being viewed by those very people who are talking about you. Hence we see that the internet has become a place where strong bonds develop, where political opinions galvanise people and where celebrities, activists, NGOs and even the academics are trying to tell their story.
Based on different interests out there, groups form, conversation starts and random opinions of unknown people pour in, adding momentum to topics that are trending, showing support for popular hashtags, and basically making the internet a place where there is no awkwardness and it’s possible to make casual friends. The kind of friends who come and go, the kind one can do away with should they become annoying, by availing of the several security measures in place, which help you cut someone out instantly. By simply blocking them.
“Today we have information at our fingertips. It’s a more fast-paced world. Interactions online are instant, and there’s less face to face interaction. People like sharing their life with others. Traditionally, our lives were more private, but today they have become more public. If I’m in a new city and don’t have friends, social media platforms can be helpful and help bring down isolation. Social media sharing also tends to give users a high, every time they share something.
The high will die down, and users will feel compelled to share again. That often leads to oversharing. Sharing thus becomes a guilty pleasure we have cultivated,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Malini Krishnan pointing out some benefits of being part of a community online – one that might fill the void if one finds oneself in a situation where friends and family are away.
Krishnan also talks about how to deal with the insecurities and anxieties that emerge due to activities on social media, when one is in a relationship. For example, when the opposite person adds or follows someone new on Facebook or Instagram. (Today Facebook no longer announces that two people are friends on the news feed, like it used to some years ago.) “Social media is also something that makes more information available. We have minds which love analysis and coming to conclusions, and social media provides more fodder for that. If you’re in a relationship, it’s important to focus on your relationship in real-time, and keep the communication healthy, making sure your relationship is strong and robust offline.
Then whatever happens on social media doesn’t matter. One has to be actively present to their own life too as it actually is, and drop all judgements about oneself. One should accept the things one is feeling, be fully compassionate to oneself. Then one can’t go wrong. Social media essentially is a covert, subtle and unsaid phenomenon that has taken over the world. Not being on it can give you FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in a sense, and we accept it as part of our culture just like we accept a Starbucks or a Burger King,” she says. Krishnan thus suggests that one can fully enjoy all the benefits of being part of online communities without getting bogged down by them, using them to one’s advantage.