Social Media and Social Futures

A panel I’m organising with William Housley, Karen Gregory and Rebecca Coleman at Social Media & Society in June 2016

Social media is conventionally located within a commercial narrative that theorises an array of emerging ‘disruptive technologies’ that includes big data, additive manufacture and robotics. These and related technologies are underpinned by computational developments that are networked, distributed, digital and data driven. It has been argued that these technologies not only disrupt markets; but also wider social and economic relations and organization. These include social institutions such as the family, work, health care delivery, education, relationships and the ‘self’. Social media is one of the first waves of digital disruptive technologies whose mass global take-up via multiple platforms is still being assessed and understood, as a social force in it’s own right. Standardly, ‘social media as data’ has provided a plethora of studies and projects that have examined the big and broad social data opportunities provided by the social media for understanding populations on the move ‘in real time’. In some cases this has led certain commentators to enthusiastically claim that the analysis of social media as data offers opportunities for prediction and the forecasting of behavior at the population level although this rhetoric is not without it’s skeptics and critics. Furthermore, these methodological opportunities and oracular imaginaries are being accompanied by an ‘ontological velocity’ generated by the social and economic implications of social media as data, practice and a globalizing networked communicative force that is shaping being and becoming in the digital age. A key issue here is the relationship between social media, society, time and the ‘future making’ capacities and affordances of these and allied technologies.

Yet little work has been carried out on the temporal ramifications of social media (and other disruptive technologies) in relation to emerging digital timescapes. To this extent the study of the relationship between social media and society remains under conceptualized especially in relation to our understanding of late modernity at the beginning of the 21st century. The relationship between social media and the social generation of risk, it’s contributions to new digital timescapes and the trajectory of the self and identity alongside empirical concerns is sociological work in waiting. In addition to this social media as a mass networked ‘digital agora’ can also be understood as a reflexive space in and through which different agents and actors are imagining the future in a variety of ways.