I conducted my first study about Facebook in March 2006 and back then perhaps no one suspected it could grow this big. We human beings usually have the hindsight bias (the I-knew-it-all-along effect), but in reality we have very little accuracy when it comes to predicting the future.
The outstanding example is the last global economic recession experienced in 2008. Despite the fact that there are tens of thousands of economists all around the world doing research around the clock, no one knew that it was coming (except a few unknown scholars). I grew up reading Fukuyama’s future predictions that the third world war would break out in the early 2000s because of petrol—which, of course, never happened.
Every December I read the emerging trends for the following year, and they usually turn out to be false. The fact is, the social sciences deal with human beings, who consist of atoms and molecules but are also driven by primordial urges, psyches, and emotions.
Although a chemist can predict—I am not talking about quantum mechanics here—the behavior of an atom in certain conditions and a biologist may control the growth of stem cell in laboratory settings, social scientists may not be able to predict what a mass of people will do six months from today. What we do cannot go beyond “informed guesswork,” because every human being is driven by millions of factors including his past, his character, his biological features, his environment, and his culture.
We should also never forget randomness. That’s why I talked about herding and information cascade, which are useful in understanding why your friend liked a Harlem Shake video but did not care about a fun video clip your friends created for your class.
As social scientists we can, however, explain why people do things that they do. We can look at the recent past and we can guess what is likely to happen in the near future. By seeing the patterns in human behavior we are definitely in a better condition to guess what a person might do in different but similar circumstances, though we can never have as much confidence as a physicist.
For example, water always boils at one hundred degrees Celsius, but a price discount does not always increase sales. Nevertheless, it is not a law but a proven theory. We cannot reject social theories just because they don’t work one hundred percent of the time.
When predicting future human behavior, one thing we have to remember is how it is shaped by local cultures. And it is not only behavior; sometimes the same outcome may be driven by totally different attitudes and expectations.
My favorite story is about Sony and Philips. When the engineers from Sony were asked why they invented Walkman, they answered,
“Because we thought people needed a device that allows them to listen to music and not bother others.”
Around the same time, some engineers from Philips (a Dutch company) were also working on a Walkman-like device and were asked the same question. Their response was a little bit different. They wanted a device that allowed people to listen to music and not be bothered by others.
There are thousands of cultures, all of which obviously influence the attitudes toward and perception of new technologies and their role in human interactions. We already know that social media changed the lives of people all around the world dramatically, but we did not know why and how social media could make such a big impact on the way people think, act, and communicate.
This book was written to find answers to these questions. Starting with definitions, followed by relevant theories, and supported by several studies, I tried to provide a glimpse of the unseen side of social media.
This book has talked about many different things, but it can be summarized into a few sentences:
- First of all, it is very clear that social media is just a different name given to the Internet, because nowadays almost all major web sites can be considered social media platforms.
- Second, people share things in social media not because they care about others, but to improve their self-image.
- And third, the most important of all, culture still hugely influences how people use social media and how much they use it. The core concept of culture, the self-versus-other orientation, explains pretty much everything in social media use, from how often people use it to what they do on it.
This book started with a chapter that talked about the powerful impact of social media and change. In the first chapter we emphasized the relationship between new technologies and social changes that may override the influence of culture.
However, we should remember that any given culture has been developed over thousands of years and cannot simply change in a short time by the impact of new technologies. Additionally, although we may think everything around us has been changing at the speed of light, that is just our lifestyles, not our cultural values.
Values only transform after mass traumatic events like wars, disasters, etc. That’s why the old generations always complain about how different the young generation is, and when the young generations grow old they themselves start the complaining.
In the long run, cultural values always remain the same. The differences we observed in the previous chapters are not the results of social media use or non-use; they are reflections of cultural values on the adoption and utilization of new communication tools.