The function of Digital Media, when broken down into its fundamental concept, is simply The Exchange of Ideas. By breaking this down, the idea seems much more universal, and much more familiar to us as humans, than it does to us as ‘Millennials,’ or ‘Boomers.’ Indeed, it’s not hard to believe that the concept of Exchanging Ideas is not a new phenomenon at all. Don’t get me wrong, Archaeologists have yet to uncover any tweets dating back to the Paleolithic era about this trendy new tech called ‘fire.’ However, Digital or Social Media has always existed in its original format: the human need to transmit ideas.
A little Background: The Original Model of Cultural Evolution
Indeed, the exchange of ideas is the currency in which Culture trades in. Culture, whether modern or ancient, is entirely created through mechanisms of social learning, which differs from ‘Individual learning.’ The same social learning responsible for spreading Tweets, Social Media Trends, and celebrity gossip has been the same strategy which had sculpted human language, and helped our ancestors survive through the Ice Age. Originally, Social Learning had a distinctly practical use: it helped our early ancestors survive by inheriting necessary ‘information’ from previous generations, such as what berries were safe to eat, or when passing down hunting traditions. Behavioral ‘learning’ traditionally followed a ridged structure, with, ‘family’ displaying the strongest link due to genetic biases. Elders were instinctively viewed to have substantial amounts of knowledge, and were strong candidates for passing down cultural information.
However, since modern human society is hardly under the same survival pressures as our ancestors, these strict conditions have changed from Survival-based, to a sort of ‘free for all’ of cultural adaptation: from the introduction of what is considered ‘cool’ (A distinctly modern concept), to advertisements legitimizing celebrities as suitable candidates to imitate, it is fair to say that the Internet and Digital Media has completely mutated the priorities and methods in which culture evolves.
Specific ways Digital Media has Changed Culture:
- Where geography-based culture was once dominant, the existence of online forums has resulted in uncommon, ‘niche’ or once obscure ideas to be propagated by thousands of people in non-geographically specific locations. The Internet truly has made the logistical barriers of spreading culture irrelevant. Because of this, it has allowed subculture communities, no matter their location, to organize themselves and develop their own traditions; no matter how ‘dangerous’ or unusual those ideas are.
- Social media has played an important role in developing an integrated ‘global culture.’ Specifically, when a foreign ‘meme’ or global event becomes popular enough within online discourse, certain aspects of these events are likely to get ‘shared’ on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Through this, Social Media has allowed these foreign ideas to be spread throughout the world. In doing so, aspects of foreign cultures, traditional and modern in nature, become incorporated into the host culture.
- Since Digital Media has undoubtedly increased connectivity throughout humanity, it is not unlikely that it has also bettered our general understanding for one another. The traditions of cultures and groups that might have been ‘Alien’ to us fifty years ago are becoming more familiar to us now. Therefore, this technology will undoubtedly play a defining role in contributing to a more peaceful future. Overall, social scientists agree that the overall rate of violence has decreased within the past century. Whether or not this is due to the advent of technology is uncertain. But being able to connect to one another could further push us into this direction. For example, a genocide happening half way across the globe might have been viewed through the desensitized medium of a Broadcasting Channel, or Newspaper, only several years ago. But now, social media makes these tragedies hard to ignore. Global events and acts of violence now permeate the minds (And fingertips) of everyone who is connected.
- The speed at which we are able to transfer ideas has now, perhaps ironically, ‘destroyed’ the ability to recognize culturally specific traits of any upcoming eras. This is due to the rate at which ideas are created, spread around society, and forgotten about in favor for the next trend. Take Fashion, for example. Fashion trends will most likely never last for a century, as they did during the prewar era, or even decades, as they did after WW2. Fashion Trends will come and go as soon as the attention span of the masses fades, which in these days is pretty quick. Essentially, cultural ‘eras’ still exist, but will no longer have a singular cultural fashion ‘style;’ rather, there will be an eclectic variation of styles, coming and going at a much quicker rate