Many major socio-cultural upheavals have been caused by social media. It has changed the way families, colleagues and friends communicate with each other and even the way communities form and individuals find sexual partners. These all have massive implications for the future of the human race, but I think perhaps the most significant effect of social media is that it has to some extent rendered the traditional nation state redundant.
There are a number of complicated geo-political phenomena that have contributed to a growing disdain for nationhood, particularly among Westerners, but I won’t describe those here. The rise of this attitude has coincided with the arrival of an easy and effective way to connect with like minded individuals around the world. Diasporas have successfully existed for millennia prior to the advent of social media, one need only look at the Hebrews for proof of this, but social media has led to a great many “artificial” diasporas arising around all kinds of peculiar cultural concepts and interests, many of them utterly bizarre or trivial.
The internet, particularly social media channels, have provided diverse peoples with a means to circumnavigate government censors and cultural taboos that normally restrict communication in other forms of media. New special interest and sub cultural communities are emerging, available for anyone willing to look. We have learned how small the world is and that a few teenagers with what starts as a passing interest in an infantile pursuit, might suddenly create a new online culture with its own nomenclature, rites and customs, attracting millions of like minded individuals who would never otherwise have regarded each other as anything but strange foreigners.
These segmented communities may be even more introspective and exclusive than conventional nation states, and their cultures at times equally as impenetrable. The question of whether or not this revolutionary development in human group mentality is positive falls outside the scope of this article. I only wish to illuminate such developments and to point out that there remains one huge barrier from the real world that has been preserved online and continues to prevent new communities from connecting. Language.
However, recent technological developments may tear down even these ancient walls. Skype’s new translator service heralds the beginning of the first widely available real-time translation technology. Just like the Babel fish from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or Star Trek’s Universal Translator, this software translates your speech and speaks it in another language as the words leave your mouth.
The software is still in the beta stage and only works in two languages, but this will no doubt change in the near future. There are also problems with the voice recognition software and the translation rarely meets the standards of a professional translator, but the kind of online communities I previously mentioned aren’t the sort who ever recruited translators anyway.
This may seem like a sensationalist opinion piece, but who in fact can deny the vital role social media has played over the past few years in all kinds of events; from the “Arab spring” to the riots in Turkey. The emergence of such technology will undoubtedly feed the growth of online communities without borders and give rise to a plethora of unforeseen global Diasporas. This will have far-reaching cultural implications which have yet to be fully considered.