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December 30 2011

16:00

Alfred Hermida: 2012 will be the year social media gets boring

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here’s Canadian news pioneer Alfred Hermida, a founder of BBCnews.com and currently an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism.

I am always hesitant to make predictions, but 2012 may just the year that social media starts to get boring. And this is a good thing.

Bear with me while I explain. Social media is largely still seen as a new, shiny entrant into the world of media.

As with all new communication technologies, there are those who argue social media is changing everything, creating a more open and democratic media space. Others take a diametrically opposed viewpoint. For them, social media just offers new ways to do old things.

Both are right and wrong at the same time. There is no doubt that social media technologies do offer new affordances, creating an open, networked, and distributed media ecosystem at odds with the one-way, broadcast model of mass media that dominated the 20th century.

At the same time, history shows us how dominant institutions, be they governments or media conglomerates, appropriate new technologies and cancel out some of their innovative potential.

The problem is how we frame new technologies. There is always a degree of hype that greets a new technology; we’ve seen it in talk of Twitter revolutions and Facebook uprisings.

Initially we are enchanted by the novelty of what these tools and services enable us to do: upload funny videos, post updates of our lunch, and share links to worthy articles.

Technologies reach their full potential when we forgot about the novelty. Instead they become boring and blend into the background. How often do we think about the technology behind the telephone, or the television set in our living room?

With any luck, this is what will happen with social media. Social media tools and services will be so ingrained within our everyday experiences that we forget that they are such recent developments.

Essentially, the technology will become invisible as we shape it to meet our political, social, and cultural needs.

Mediated sociability will be with us at all times, no matter what we are doing. Arguably, for younger adults, this is already happening. Facebook is part of their lives, just like the telephone is simply there.

For journalists, what this means is that social media will become part of everyday routines. Facebook or Twitter won’t be simply add-ons, but an inherent component of the media environment for journalists.

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