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Book Chapter

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digital information technologies, information technology, Social Media


At the turn of the century, we were still at the beginning of our journey into this always-on, always-connected world. We still wrote physical letters and sent birthday cards by mail. Phone calls were expensive and video calling was like science fiction. Google and Facebook didn’t exist. You couldn’t download video games on your mobile phone because you didn’t have access to an app store that sold software.

In contrast, just today you might have viewed TikTok videos, checked Instagram, sent a WhatsApp message, liked an author’s tweet, and chatted with your friends on Discord. All before starting your school day. You may not realize it, but the smart-phone-always-on-hand lifestyle has turned us into social media creatures constantly dropping digital breadcrumbs about our lives on the Internet. Without being aware, you may have shared information about your friends, your boss at work, the books you like, your vacation plans, the products you use at home, and even revealed your eagerness to find a partner. These breadcrumbs help companies show you ads for the things you are most interested in. But they also have a dark side. Social media apps—the comsumer-facing applications of the digital world—could potentially hurt your career and relationships. All these possibilities arise from social media apps—the consumer-facing applications of the digital world.

While the benefits of social media are well known, in recent years there is increasing awareness of its potential harms. Several states have passed laws to regulate social media use, and the US Surgeon General has issued an advisory summarizing results from research on social media’s impact on mental health. The Surgeon General’s advisory informs us on large sections of this chapter and is a great resource to augment the information in this chapter. Particularly useful are the links in the advisory to the empirical studies that have looked at the issues we have brought up in this chapter.

Adapting from Carr and Hayes and the advisory from the Surgeon General, we define social media as Internet-based channels that allow users to interact and derive value from user-generated content. The goal of this chapter is to make you more aware of the impact of social media, so you can make the best use of social media in your life and career, while avoiding the pitfalls. For both benefits and risks, we look at both professional and personal aspects.

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