Online Culture Shock
Aaron Krish

Our culture is fueled by information. An ungodly and almost unlimited wealth of information is available at the touch of the enter key on the keyboard. Such immediacy changed the way content is created and has even changed the way we as people interact on a daily basis.

This online culture brings the people together into communities that match their interests and into a world where they control the content.

Public relations professor Andrew Stoner cites journalist Jay Rosen’s article, “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.”

“To its credit, it makes connections between how we selectively put ourselves in various audiences or groups based on what sort of feedback or participation we can have, as opposed to simply waiting for a broadcast to us that someone else has decided,” Stoner said.

By selecting how we put ourselves in different groups or audiences and creating the content it is much easier to connect and interact with others through an online medium. Immediacy and the ability to connect automatically with someone across country or the world appear to be the new normal.

“I visited my nephew’s dorm a few years ago. I was totally struck by how students were all in their rooms, most of them with the doors shut. It seemed so different from when I lived there in the 1980s,” Stoner said. “I can honestly say I knew just about every guy on my floor. It was a social experience.”

In contrast to Stoner’s experience, his nephew did not even know the names of his neighbors in the room next to his. Certainly, times have changed. The nature of the younger generation’s interactions are less personal and more digital, but the fundamental idea remains the same: to connect and interact with a wider group of people.

“I have witnessed what I would call ‘mediated friendships’ develop,” Stoner said. “I see people I knew from high school interacting with people I knew from college. The two don’t know each other except through me. It is fun to watch and is possible via a social networking exchange like that.”

Anna Verhagen, communication major, and Kate Reck, Information and Outreach Coordinator for Residential Living, both use social media to connect with people online, personally and professionally.

For Reck, it is a means to connect with a large audience with a broad range of interests and a way to promote information.

“It’s another way of getting people together with the same interests or ideas, and different departments use these communities differently,” Reck said. “The topic can lead to so many venues, and people seek out interactions. It’s another information medium that is becoming so much more inclusive. We are in a community and want to share the knowledge.”

Reck is an active member of a Facebook group called #SocialPointers. The group is made up of faculty and interns that run the social media sites for various departments on campus. Sharing new trends and techniques in the social media world is a common topic.

On a more personal level, Verhagen wants to use social media platforms to interact with individuals she normally would not be able to meet. Concerning sites like Chat Roulette and other instant messaging websites, Verhagen explains that she is interested in meeting unique individuals.

“I get to experience different things that I’ll probably never get to be a part of,” Verhagen said. “I meet these people and learn about a lifestyle that I don’t know much about and have not lived and that is really interesting to me.”

Verhagen continues to speak with a few of the individuals she has met online. She has built a friendship with them and has even met one of them in person.

Some experts, though, argue that there are implications that go along with interacting in such a way online.

“The Catfish video demonstrates a fairly new phenomenon where people are constructing whole identities using the pictures, relationships, experiences, information and connections of people they don’t even know,” Stoner said. “If we think about it, how many times have we okayed a friendship with someone we don’t know just on the basis that they know someone we know?”

Online communities and culture can be a great source of information, but some experts would argue that users should proceed with caution, based on events that where people are hurt by others pretending to be something they are not. However, at the end of the day, people are still connecting and interacting.

“To me, it begs a big question. We call it ‘social media’ but has it, in fact, made us at all any more social?,” Stoner said. “If it has, can we even trust the people we’ve connected with? Are they who they present themselves to be if we never personally interact with them in person?”