Smartphones have made us dangerous.
It is estimated that there are over five billion mobile devices in use today. Studies predict that by 2025, 70% of internet users will only use smartphones to access the internet.
Every day, millions of people around the world use their smartphones to take photos, make videos or write texts documenting their reality, then share them on social networks. Until recently, it was difficult to break into journalism and film, let alone earn a decent living, without proper training and connections.
Today, with almost everyone having a smartphone and access to social media, anyone can be a pseudo-journalist or a pseudo-filmmaker; therein lies the danger. Anyone can have the power to post content, be it news, opinion, video, graphics, music, and more. and create a sequel.
Not only has our experience of consuming information changed dramatically, but who creates the content we consume has also changed dramatically.
There is a saying that goes: “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own it”. The first thing the Internet devoured was journalism, the acquisition, processing and publication of information. When you hold a smartphone, a handheld mass communication tool, you are holding a press.
A tweet from Tom Harrington (@cbctom) carries as much journalistic weight as a tweet from a 23-year-old Starbucks barista who filmed police violently arresting a homeless man outside their store.
It is often Ukrainian citizens and enterprising individuals, rather than mainstream journalists, who capture what is happening in Ukraine through their photos and videos. Similarly, Turkey’s artillery bombardment of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan was recorded by civilians.
In the digital age, anyone can be a journalist; in fact, anyone can claim any title they want. Having a degree in journalism or being affiliated with a news organization is no longer necessary. Smartphones allow us to record and deliver “news” to an audience increasingly dependent on social media to find news and information (READ: opinions) that confirms their beliefs.
The same goes for cinema. Movies made on smartphone can be downloaded on countless platforms. No film dispenser is needed. No need to go to film school.
Thanks to smartphones allowing its owner to instantly broadcast worldwide and identify themselves as a “journalist”, “director”, “writer”, “photographer”, “graphic designer”, “recording artist” or ” radio personality (podcast)” to name just a few of the professions now available to everyone, is just a matter of semantics.
No one is qualified and everyone is qualified.
With a smart phone in your pocket, you can become Canada’s most read food critic. Want to be a travel reporter? Travel and blog with your smartphone. Want to be a nature documentary filmmaker? Using your smartphone, film anthills or Japanese beetles mating in your local park and upload it to YouTube.
(Fun fact: 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.)
No one expects your content to be perfect; it is understood that it will be fragile. What’s important is that your content resonates with people. Connecting with people is key to a successful social media strategy.
There’s no exact science to figuring out what will resonate with the general population or what will offend people beyond the obvious, which is why most social media learning is done simply by spreading things and seeing what happens.
Yes, I’m saying social media is a game of “hit and miss”.
The value of having a measurable audience to talk to is obvious to anyone with even a passing understanding of social media. (If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make noise?) Therefore, you need to come up with something different to stand out among celebrities and influencers on social media platforms.
This is why social media posts are becoming more and more outrageous. Much of the content posted on social media by those seeking recognition as a journalist, filmmaker, podcaster, singer or otherwise is created to grab attention, aka clickbait, and generate the two most searched internet metrics , clicks and views.
Back then, when there were only four or five TV channels, the TV channel didn’t really have to care about your clicks; they just put on the best shows they could. Then cable arrived, and the choices multiplied tenfold.
Cable, coupled with a remote control, which meant the viewer didn’t have to get up to change channels, forced TV channels to deliver content that kept you glued to the tube. Today, globally, there are an endless number of social media platforms providing every type of content (images, videos, news, fiction, information, opinions, movies, podcasts) imaginable, vying for your attention. .
As social media grows, so does the competition for our attention. Thus, content that is considered “successful” is not created to spread unbiased information, beauty, art, or even entertainment, but rather to trigger a response.
Unsurprisingly, the easiest emotion to trigger is anger and outrage. (Most outrages these days are signs of virtue, but some are sincere.)
Successful online bloggers, vloggers – a person who creates and shares video content online – pseudo-journalists, pseudo-directors, etc. understand the importance of retaining an audience. They know that a large audience will draw attention to their content who will like and share.
Additionally, they consider how their content may comfort the comfortable, distress the afflicted, or be the subject of legal controversy. As a result, the content they post is often considered newsworthy or exposes injustice. Since they’re free from editorial interference, they’re free to push what they say are “creative limits” to succeed as a pseudo “whatever.”
The social media incentive structure is not designed to amplify specific content. Instead, it’s designed to amplify and deliver attention-grabbing content, creating an “attention economy,” leading people to create content that’s more likely to grab your attention than be accurate or unbiased.
The media used to decide when and how you got the news; the Internet has changed that. From now on, you no longer receive the news on television at 6:00 or 9:00 p.m., with the edition of the morning or evening newspaper, or on the half hour on a news radio station.
Instead, 24/7, social media delivers the news and many passionate dissenting opinions from conventional news sources, citizens who were on “the scene” and self-reported “journalists”. -identified. Thanks to the Internet, journalists no longer occupy an elite authoritative platform from which to broadcast to a captive audience.
Although I blame social media for many of our current social ills, social media has an undeniable advantage, albeit a double-edged sword. Social media provides platforms for all voices to be heard.
Unfortunately, we are increasingly abusing this amazing digital platform; such is the need of the human ego to be heard, acknowledged, to be right, and to feel empowered to identify as it wishes the world to see. Is there a better medium than social media – the internet – to be the “nickname” we want to project?
Thirty years ago, would any of the pseudo-professions I mentioned have been possible? Not so long ago, to legitimately call yourself a filmmaker, you would have needed a distributor. A novelist would need a publisher. A musician would need to get a recording contract. A journalist should be affiliated with a news organization.
The education and work required to truly belong to the professions I have just mentioned are no longer necessary. After reading this article, you can take your smartphone, take pictures of your coffee table, upload them to Flicker, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or any platform you like, and call yourself a photographer.
With a smartphone and a few choice words in your social media bio(s), you can call yourself anything from writer and musician to documentary filmmaker and photographer.
Being able to identify with whatever we want to identify with begs the question: is this pseudo-professional culture another bad consequence of social media?
Nick Kossovan, a self-proclaimed connoisseur of human psychology, writes what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.