Social media, like it or not, constitutes a primary conduit for communication in the Information Age. Public enthusiasm for the format shows no signs of abating, and in less than a decade, the phenomenon has grown from cyber-sect, to mainstream culture, to hyper-banality. A periodic distraction for some, a gateway to existence for others, social media is now all pervasive and continues to develop in tandem with mobile computing, especially smart phones. Incidentally, as encounters in the virtual world increase, so do accidents behind the wheel. Jump from automotive mishaps to misunderstandings in the realm of value.
“Be conscious. Disconnect,” say a series of ads sponsored by the Ford Motor Company in Brazil. Designed to promote safety on the road, the ads also make a latent statement in the context of individual freedom. Social media saturates our lives with images in the name of “connection,” but are we really closer to each other and more compassionate as a result? On the contrary, the objectification of people reaches new levels in the domain of Followers and Likes. We play a game where others exist for our self-gratification and amusement—as toys, as products on digital shelves, as data and ultimately digits. Meanwhile, remote servers log and analyze our every move, silently building the advertising component deeply embedded in the online “social” infrastructure.
Social media allows individuals and corporations to makes claims, but unlike traditional marketing, contains metrics that become part of those claims. The link between legitimacy and quantity has never been stronger. We now gauge value based on clicks. Despite the sophistication of our technology, we remain somewhat gullible. The amount of likes, followers, or views acquired by an account simply reflects how much time or money has been spent on publicity. How quickly we mistake that number for a bonafide rating of the content. Yes, viral events can take place, boosting these figures. But they are the exception, not the rule, and by no means inherently significant.
Absorbed in the act of browsing, do we stop to think what a social rating really means? Are people’s opinions, desires, and habits a reliable gauge of value? It depends on the quality of the people. Numbers give us quantity only. Although factual, numbers are also abstractions, and in some cases illusions. Are the likes of ten thousand morons better than the likes of one hundred visionaries? A binary democracy and advertising engine says yes, conveying esteem for popularity at the cost of intelligence. But how can we distinguish between each click without actually knowing the people involved? How can we measure the true value of the social data? We cannot. The notion that the numbers speak for themselves turns out to be gibberish.