Social media’s future is our future, too

Blair Hanley Frank

Illustration: Ruth Hwang

Social media’s impact on the way we communicate is easily one of the most significant technological developments of the past decade. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and their cohorts have created a world where the revolution is both televised and tweeted. But what does the future hold?

The way I see it, there are really two possible paths that our culture can take in regards to communication and social media. On one side, there’s greater openness, as advocated by Mark Zuckerberg. In that case, personal information becomes decidedly more free and open. To use an extreme example, in a society that valued radical openness in that manner, there wouldn’t be questions about why there are freely available pictures of a candidate for political office drinking as much as why those pictures aren’t freely available.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we could head for a radical shrinkage in the amount of information that we share and make public. Right now, only power users really work to control what items the people connected to them can see (when such settings are available) but I think it’s entirely possible that we’ll see a major backlash to just how much information we’ve made available at the coaxing of Google, Facebook and the rest. Rather than the current public-by-default method of sharing, granular control over who on your friends list sees that status update will be more normal.

Right now, we’re at a crossroads as users of social media. We have a choice to pick which of those futures we find most acceptable. (Or perhaps, create some future that is yet to be described or understood.) But with a generation growing up right now that will have no knowledge of a time when communication via social media wasn’t an option, those choices will be even more important.