The saying goes that everyone in the world is only six people removed from Kevin Bacon. Current developments suggest that it may be time to revise that adage.
Today we’re linked to each other through social networks, our devices, cameras, even our thermometers. The connective tissue of our society has sprung up new products, services and opportunities that weren’t possible a decade ago.
While you may not feel the need to know what your high school friends are having for lunch, we explore five ways in which these connections have changed our lives for the better.
1. Staying in touch
The earliest and most obvious effects of the growth of social media was the ease of keeping in touch with friends, family and colleagues. The jury is still out on whether social media is creating stronger or weaker ties; however there is no question that you know more about what’s going on in the lives of those around you than ever before.
Roughly two thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites, while half say that connecting with old friends they’ve lost touch with is a major reason. Our digital connections provide a way to keep us close, even when we are thousands of miles apart.
2. Reducing costs
Entire industries have been transformed by our ability to connect through the devices in our hands.
Uber disrupted the global taxi industry by using an app to connect thousands of drivers directly to the millions of people looking for a ride. Nest changed the way our homes use energy by adjusting the heating and cooling needs of the home based not on a fixed schedule, but when people arrive and leave their home, reducing energy costs and helping the environment at the same time.
3. Solving problems
Two heads are better than one, so imagine what hundreds, or even thousands of heads can do. Public Mobile is changing how customers find answers to their questions. Instead of calling in and waiting on hold for a customer service agent, Public Mobile’s community responds to one another’s problems with solutions based on their own experience.
The information lives on the web indefinitely so that each time an answer is provided it adds to the ever growing knowledge base. The community is even recognized for their participation through a rewards program.
4. Democratizing communication
If blogs made everyone a writer, social media made every citizen a reporter.
The most evident example was during the Arab Spring. While the government censored the media, limiting the reporting of what was occurring in the streets, the revolution was supported by social platforms as citizens tweeted and shared with one another. When the government eventually shut down Facebook and Twitter too, Hootsuite’s social media tools filled the void and gave a platform where the conversation continued.
5. Keeping informed
There was a time when the news was served in one way, to everyone. A selection of stories, curated by the local newspaper or the evening anchor and distributed daily to the masses. Now the news finds us, and we each experience it through our own personalized lens. Whether it via a personalized app or through the shares of others in your social feed, we each discover the information and stories that matter most to our individual interests. In fact, the average person now sees approximately 285 pieces of content every day – that is about the same amount of text as the average novel, and as many minutes of video as four Star Wars movies.
The Internet provided the infrastructure to connect machines and social media provided a catalyst to connect people. These five examples are only the beginning. We are only beginning to discover what can be created when billions of people can collaborate together, work together and solve problems together.
Go ahead, ask Kevin Bacon.