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Human Dimensions of Social Media

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A communications expert compared people being unconsciously consumed with social media to a fish swimming unaware that he is in water. Dennis G. Martin, a professor emeritus of Communications from BYU in Provo, said, like “the fish is the last one to realize water is its medium, we are not likely to notice that machines make up the medium we swim in…. Think about the medium we are swimming in because it has a huge impact on who we are and who we become.”Martin spoke to a full audience of BYU-Hawaii students and professors in the Little Theatre on Feb 26, about the types of community people choose to create. Martin said, “A digital connection is not the same as a human bond. When we have a moment to disconnect, we turn into mummies with faces illuminated by the glowing screen. We have allowed social media to replace our thinking time. When was the last time you just spent 15 minutes thinking?”To illustrate his comment, he shared a Los Angeles news story about a 83-year-old woman’s mummified body found after being dead for a year in front of a glowing computer monitor with Facebook opened. Martin said she had no family, friends, or religious groups. However, being a former B-movie star and model for Playboy, in her lonely state she had connected with old fans on Facebook. He said, “What a paradox? She had a web that had grown exponentially, but at what cost.”In attendance at the forum was Cole Ellsworth, a freshman from Texas studying exercise and sports science. He said, “Technology can be isolating. It can be a struggle to have meaningful times together. For me, this forum made me think about ways I can bring friends together over anything- the dinner table, outdoors, activities. I want to make creating that space to just talk more a part of my life.”Martin said he wanted the forum to be a place where students can analyze the impact their social media has on their lives. He said, “Value the machines for what they are; tools just like a saw or hammer. They serve a great purpose, but let’s not substitute machines for commonness, communion, community, and communication.”Gabbi Smith, a freshman from Utah studying history, agreed with Martin. “It’s really valuable to see social media as a tool. That means you are using it, not having it use you. Being out here, I have to rely on social media to communicate with people back home. When we see it as a tool, we can use it to form a sense of community. It just depends on your intent of how you use it.”Martin gave another example, this time of a woman who had to sit through 17 hours on a flight from L.A. to Singapore with the bathroom leaking right beside her. He said at first she complained and received a short, unapologetic response from the airline. He explained the woman then tweeted about the unfairness on Twitter. From this example, Martin said, “Social media has democratized the world we live in. Don’t you feel a little bit of power? You have a voice now.”Joyce Li, a senior majoring in ICS communications from Hong Kong, said, “A couple years ago, I noticed within my group of friends that they used social media to capture people’s attention and it turned into a bad thing of commenting just to get people to respond. It’s easier to be mean over social media.”Li further explained that you don’t really see people’s reactions, facial expressions, and body language. On the other hand, Li said, “Leaders of the church talk to us about how great a tool it is. I am called as a social media missionary and we emphasize reaching out to people from different parts of the world.”Uploaded March 6, 2015
Writer: Mackenzie McLeod