By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist
We’re not just passively consuming information anymore. We’re actually interacting and collectively creating something with others. This new way of engaging with the world will likely have a big influence on how we view ourselves and society.
One of the features of social media and the internet is that we always have access to information. In general, we expect to be able to listen to songs and watch movies when we want and we get frustrated when this doesn’t pan out. We expect to be able to find media when we’re looking for it.
Now, the fact that we can find media so quickly actually changes the way that we experience it. At an unconscious level, we understand that the information will always be there, so there’s less urgency in paying attention. We can distract ourselves while we listen to a song, for example, knowing that we can play that song again whenever we want.
The next important observation about social media is that we’re generally consuming information that is recent. The posts that we see on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, and so on, are typically only a few days old, so our perspective on the world is often guided by what others are talking about and interested in at that moment. And this might contribute to why we have such a short attention span for news–we get excited about a topic and then forget about it a few days later as a new topic emerges. At some level, we seem to be aware that we’re always missing out on something online, and this can potentially shape our experience in some way. We want to keep scrolling on social media in order to “finish” looking at everyone’s posts, but we know that there’s no end and that new information will be there for us the next morning when we wake up.
Another interesting consequence of our focus on information is that we might be focused more on the present moment instead of the past and the future. We question what we’re doing in the present moment and frequently reflect on whether we’re maximizing our present experience. We expect Amazon to deliver to us the next day, and we’re increasingly interested in using apps that deliver groceries and food. Our focus on the present moment might contribute to the popularity of these apps, and, in turn, these apps further appease our ability to focus on the present moment.
Another consequence of social media is that people realize that they have a voice. They realize that their perspectives can be communicated across the world, and that’s a huge shift in our understanding of who we are and our understanding of our own individuality. In some sense, everyone is their own form of media, their own celebrity. As a result, hotels are receiving requests from social media personalities requesting a free night’s stay in return for promoting the hotel on social media. This is exemplified by bloggergate, where Elle Darby requested a free stay at the White Moose Cafe, and the Cafe responded with a video rant on social media. They even went so far as to ban bloggers and YouTubers from staying at their hotel.
As a result of social media, each individual has to come to grips with the notion that they themselves are media. We have to adjust to the constant stream of new information, and our instant access to information and our desire to optimize the present moment. And as individuals adapt to the world of social media and the internet, we expect that the resulting psychological changes will manifest as psychological trends in our society and in our culture. These are trends that marketers need to be aware of, but generally, everyone should be paying attention.