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Social Media and Their Consequences

The final speaker in this Social Media and Society session is William Housley, whose interest is in the role of social media as disruptive technologies: they affect how we organise ourselves in our social relations, and how these social relations are captured through big data on social media activities. This has a strong temporal dimension, recognising the dynamics of change over time.

We could think about social media in terms of colonisation: how are they having an effect on everyday life, for instance; how do they give rise to new forms of labour; what are the temporal aspects of social media activity and how is this tied to labour; how do social media compress time and space? Much of this is also about the rise of real-time social networks, of course.

This is a question about the socio-temporal effects of social media, then: it relates to instantaneity and space-time distantiation. Social media can be understood in terms of timescapes: what is the temporal frame of social media; what are their temporal effects, for instance in terms of data and surveillance, as viewed from both dystopian and utopian perspectives?

The key dimensions here are commodification, colonisation, and compression. Social media may have the potential to metrify social status and social capital, thereby commodifying social interactions; social media are also colonising various activities in everyday life, from dating to looking for work, and assist in the monitoring of everyday activities (increasingly also through the provision of social bots); and social media are compressing time and space by enabling and privileging certain types of social interactions over others.

So what are the potential timescapes of digital society? What are the features and contours of an automated society that are now emerging? Human actors are providing big and broad data for the development of automatic analytics and artificial intelligences, and social media are therefore also a key site for operationalising the human-robot interface? Can we utilise emerging scholarly models for horizon scanning and future studies to extrapolate from the current situation and anticipate these developments? Can we trace the continuities and disruptions inherent in these processes?