People like to be informed, to know what’s going on around them. It’s a key to survival and well-being. And staying up-to-date with current events is easy nowadays. We take in a lot of information every day, in the form of live feeds, minute updates, tweets, and blogs. But the news we get could be of different kind: Obama’s visit to Asia, austerity riots in EU countries, our best friend’s new favorite song of the day, or our distant cousin’s new vacation pictures. It’s all news, all very current but different on magnitude, significance, and ultimately on degree of relevance to us personally. Some news we read concern the whole population of the world, some only people living in our country, some only us as individuals, and some, I’m afraid, no one else but the person who “reported” it. Usually, news presented in the mainstream media is the most significant kind because it concerns a lot of people. That’s not the case with news we get on our Tweeter or Facebook accounts, news like friends’ minute-to-minute activities, “likes”, or tags. And yet we get a lot of these, and much more directly too.
Nowadays, one of educators’ main concerns is that young people (e.g., Generation Z) don’t read the news and are not informed, not knowledgeable about important facts and events. Researchers say it’s because young people are only interested in what happens in their closest circle; they don’t care what the world is doing but only what their friends are doing. So their “news hubs” are Facebook and Twitter, and the rest of the non-social media is given no attention or acknowledgement. Although young generations might be more prone to this phenomenon, I dare to call it being updated on “micro news”, I suspect older generations are too, possibly without realizing it. In fact, I would think anybody who has Internet access and a social network account might be very likely to learn much more about their closest circle than about the world in general.
The abundance of social media provides us with the unique opportunity to be updated on what a lot of people in our circles are doing, every minute, anywhere. We can even go back in each of our connections’ “timelines” to see what they were doing yesterday, last week, last year, 20 years ago. Now, we can learn so much about so many people that we know; without even talking to some of them or seeing them for a long time (e.g., a high-school friend who lives on another continent), we can get all the updates about their lives in a matter of minutes. This could be wonderful and very valuable in most cases; keeps people connected, involved in each others’ lives. We are very social creatures, so it’s only natural that we care about people around us; we want to know what and how they’re doing. But do we learn and know a little too much sometimes? Do we need all of the minute updates on our social networks? Do we need to know where J is having dinner right this minute, or that R is in a bad traffic jam, or that B adores pictures of little kittens so much that she has to post 10 of them every day?
We can easily become overwhelmed with the micro news overflowing from our social media accounts where really important news about our friends (e.g., that someone got married, had a child, broke a record) sometimes get lost among tons of not-so-important news (e.g., someone had a two-hour commute home). Unlike mainstream media outlets that have editors who decide what’s worth reporting and what’s not, social media doesn’t pose any restrictions, and it doesn’t allow you to filter your friends’ updates by relevance or significance; at least not yet. The FB team should think about this option – might boost people’s “likes” of FB. Because right now, you can’t set your FB or Tweeter updates to give you only the “important” feeds. At present, everything is important as you either get it all or you get nothing at all. So we might spend a lot of time FB-ing or reading tweets without learning much, at least not much that’s meaningful. Could this micro news be taking time and energy we can instead devote to the real news; the news that can broaden the breadth of our knowledge? Are we learning less about the world because we are learning more about our friends and acquaintances? And if so what are the pros and cons of this new phenomenon? I can’t wait to find out.