How much will social media change society?

The media world is changing fast and many organisations are struggling to keep up. I saw some figures this week showing that in the last year alone the number of people accessing Facebook through a mobile phone has increased by 150 million. In the borough that I work, Facebook use amongst the 16-24 age group now runs at over 95%.

 This presents us with a challenge. If the pace of take up continues at this rate in ten years time these digitally savvy young people will have families of their own and will have become mainstream customers. They will not want to have to visit access points or even pick up a phone. Instead they’ll want everything to be done digitally – and fast. I don’t expect they’ll be happy waiting a couple of days for a reply or being passed from pillar to post. You can see the impact of the digital environment they live in just by working alongside them. I regularly provide work experience for youngsters wishing to work in PR but have been staggered by the number of times a request for them to pick up the phone stops them in their tracks – “can I just email them” is a common reply.

 Whenever I go and see teenage nephews and nieces it is incredible to see how, even if they have friends round, they are spending their time messaging and ‘poking’ other friends who aren’t there in the room. In essence many of them have become great at digital communications despite being lousy communicators.

 I’ve posted comments before about concerns I have with some parts of society not being able to grasp simple communication skills and how that is isolating them in society but if people are growing up in a digital world with hundreds of digital friends living in a digital community what effect will this have on basic community life. Will we need libraries and community centres in future? Will GP surgeries need receptionists to answer calls, will we ever need call centres? In fact, will we begin to see a fall in the number of large supermarkets as the digital generation opts to purchase most things online rather than venture out shopping. Already, the ability to have lengthy conversations with people online or via email has, in my view, caused problems in many marriages so will the fact that simple social skills are being replaced with digital skills have an impact on a person’s ability to physically go out and meet a partner?

 There is no question that access to a digital world empowers people and offers a world of learning for young people most of us who had to read piles of books can only dream about. However, whether we like it or not the world is going to change fast and organisations whether they are in the public sector or private sector need to embrace that and take a long hard look at how they operate.

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