The evolution of social networking

Nathan Smith

     Centuries ago, when the first pockets of human civilization were learning to communicate, they would use symbols, hand movements and sounds to get their messages across — and these conversations were simple, at best.  It wasn’t until much later that these vague messages became actual words and written script.  The ability of speech then led to the formation of the first forums, areas at the center of towns where the people would gather to recount the day with one another.

     Then came the printing press, allowing for the mass-spread of the written works of people all around the world.  And for a long while, this was the most efficient way to communicate.

     However, a new electronic world was well on the way.  While the internet was originally based on the work of Louis Pouzin – further developed by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn during the 1970’s — the idea for a world-wide web was developed by Tim Berners-Lee and his team at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) between the years 1989 and 1994.  This work was what would later spawn HTML code and, in turn, the websites of today, such as Facebook, MySpace and Youtube.  But, as different as these new forms of communication are, they all have at least one major keystone that is completely reminiscent of their centuries’ old predecessors.

     When letters were sent via snail-mail, they would have to physically travel to the recipient, regardless of if they were sent through a telegraph or not.  Today, we simply log onto our e-mail or forum accounts, and send a message to whomever we wish through our computers, cell phones and multi-media devices.  This is how the original forums evolved in the form of physical structures and documents. Now, entire buildings have turned into megabytes of data in an intangible, interconnected network.

     Today, instead of traveling to the center of town to visit with friends, we simply make a status update on Twitter or Facebook, alerting people, at an instant, of what we are doing at that very moment. This has created a network that has allowed us to know what our friends are doing, and where they are at most times of the day.  At first glance, this might seem strange, even slightly creepy, yet it is simply another method we have invented to keep in contact with one another.

     And while the people of the older days would travel down to the market place to purchase goods, we can simply log onto our computers and browse eBay, half.com, newegg, craigslist or simply visit Google’s shopping tab.  In fact, there are many who use forums and social networks to sell or advertise their products or talents.

     Some ask if this sort of social network allows the generations it has been exposed to become lazier, or even more antisocial.  While it may be true that people can choose to stay at home and blog about their day, rather than discuss it with a friend face-to-face, this network also links our entire world together.  When we want to send a loving message to a sibling who’s across the country, we write an e-mail.  When we want our friends to know that we are waiting for them at the movie theater, we thumb a text.  When we want to tell people that we’ve found the coolest computer, or the cutest outfit, we post a Twitter update. And when we want people to actually see what we’re doing, we set up a webcam and post videos online, or even chat with one another live.

     There is no saying that this type of social networking has not drastically altered society, but there is also no saying that no good has come of it.  What I believe some people overlook, is that all these means of communication were (in one way or another) created and in use thousands of years before today.

     But what’s left to expand upon?  The internet only spans to about a quarter of the world’s population.  To fix this, we must create new hubs and hot-spots for the rest of the world to be connected to the continually growing world-wide-web.  From there, we completely incorporate our cell phones, music players and other everyday electronics into this massive interconnection, until we are immersed in nothing less than a completely digital network.