Riding the buses at the University of Georgia, our team has noticed something quite different from our experiences riding the bus as middle and high school students just a few years ago. Instead of chatting to one another, college students today do not say a single word - out loud at least. We stare at our phones - perhaps texting our best friend who goes to college hundreds of miles away, or looking at pictures on Instagram from a sister who lives in California. All of these reasons are wonderful and were not nearly as accessible in our near past. However, while the social media of today's times bridges the gap between us and those we cannot physically see, it creates a bigger divide between us and our neighbors right next to us. So how does one fix this problem? We believe the answer lies in the use of more social media. While that may sound counter-intuitive, we can prove to you that social media can actually be used to eliminate this digital divide between us and our peers. We see a future where social media is actually a catalyst for more face to face communication that links us closer to those around us that we have the habit of currently ignoring.
Since its introduction about ten years ago, social media has taken the world by storm. According to Pew Center Research, nearly sixty five percent of adults today use social media daily, so it is not a coincidence that it has impacted many aspects of everyday life such as work, politics, news, dating, stress, and even parenting. The trend of social media use has been relatively steady, but there has been excessive growth among certain demographics. For example:
These trends prove how influential social media has become in our everyday lives and reminds us of its limitless capabilities of connecting everyone in the world regardless of age, socioeconomic status, education level, race, or gender. However, the more we are on our phones, the more we forget to connect with the people around us. We see a future where we balance the connections with our friends and family across the globe, but also those sitting next to us as well.
So often we try to connect with people across the world and end up neglecting the people around us. Social media of the future will help us stay OFF the phone. That's right, OFF - by facilitating conversations and reconnecting you to the people next door. 2037 will make new sense of the phrase "social media" by supplying online applications to support the conscious human decision to socialize outside the phone while balancing our need to connect with those who we are unable to see or be by physically.
Recently, major fast food corporation Chick-fil-A has begun a campaign that encourages people to put their phones away in an effort to embrace the present and the tangible with the simple (yet efficient) incentive of ice cream. Known as the All Cooped Up challenge, the objective is for people to enjoy conversations and human interactions during a meal without looking at their phone. This challenge illustrates two very important themes:
Our challenge now is to focus in on that desire, but with the aid of technology.
Social media has enabled us to connect with people on the international level, but along the way, we’ve lost a little bit of that connectivity on a community level. We want to have a new emphasis on the present in a more local context. We hope this will generate more face-to-face interactions with the people around us, therefore fostering greater connectivity with everyone to help create an ideal community where everyone feels a sense of fellowship and is able to more easily meet others who share a common identity.
Today, Bluetooth only covers several meters of connectivity. The maximum range of Bluetooth Version 5.0 is 240 meters, but we believe that in the future, Bluetooth, or a similar apparatus, will expand its coverage to areas as large as your city. This may seem a bit far fetched now, but we’ve actually seen a glimmer of this form of social networking in our future with Dutch based mobile app, Service2media, and the most popular social network in the Netherland, Hyves. Unlike the internet, this version of Bluetooth will only be accessible to people located in your city or within a set walking distance. Social media platforms will then utilize this broader, more localized range of communication, facilitating ways to learn more about the people around you. Once this Bluetooth capability is enabled on your phone – with the availability to enable and personalize privacy settings – anyone in your area, or "utopia," will be able to identify you, able to access information about you and your location in relation to them. For example, they may be the person sitting next to you on the bus. If both you and that person are active, then you will be able to see each other’s biography and any other information you choose to share about yourself. As such, the service functions in a manner similar to the Tinder app, but with a focus on meeting new friends and getting to know the people around you.
For example, you may receive notifications that alert you to the nearby location of someone using the app who enjoys the same music as you, or shares other similar interests. Unlike dating apps that require you to be actively searching for matches, this form of social media will be programmed with your interests in order to diligently search for you. As a result, users will in fact use their phones less, thereby encouraging communication outside the phone. Due to the city-focused nature of this app, notifications for local news and stores will also appear when using location services.
Social media of the future will encourage communication outside the phone, not within.
If social media of the future wants people to stay off the phone, how would they make money?
We would like to believe that big companies existed solely to improve the lives of humans, but that just cannot be true. Of course, company leaders can have morals, a mission statement, what-have-you, but in the end money has to be made to keep social media companies afloat. According to The Atlantic, Google and Facebook make somewhere between $5 to $20 per user's data. Currently, Facebook has about 1.7 million active users, potentially making $21,250,000 off of providing data to businesses.
Because the focus of new social media will be on finding people around you who are like you, users have to input their favorite bands, favorite food, favorite sports teams, where they went to school, where they work, etc. To meet more likeminded people, users will be much more inclined that now to input more pieces of data - similar to profiles pages that exist in today's social, but much more specialized to your own area. The data collected will help you find people that are more like you and will help provide companies find more data about potential customers.
Ultimately, we envision a world with communication no longer hindered by this idea of a “digital divide”. Instead of sitting lonely and idle, people’s social media accounts will automatically disseminate information about the people around them in real time. Just imagine it: the person next to you puts on their public profile that they love a certain band that happens to be your favorite too. What normally would have been a silent ride all of a sudden becomes one that sparks an engaging conversation. Strangers become friends and social media accounts become not a disconnect from the people around you, but a catalyst for real face to face connections. Short range communication through the helpful nudges of technology will bring us all together again.
We will bring back the talking; the laughter will return. Silence will be eradicated. And so will the digital divide.