Note: This article was updated on June 28th to reflect more up-to-date statistics and information.
A day doesn’t go by where most of us don’t scroll through Instagram, click through Snapchat, get caught up on Twitter and connect on Facebook. It’s a part of our daily routine, and for many of us, social media is what pays our bills. The concept that is social media has become so much more than a way to pass time; it’s our news platform, it’s how we talk to our friends, it’s how we research and it’s sometimes how we make our livelihoods. With social media playing such a huge part in our everyday lives, it’s hard to imagine what life was like before social media existed. For many of us that are likely reading this article, we were around in the days before social media, but it’s hard to remember what we did before we snapped and tweeted and grammed. What did we do before we spent hours upon hours on our mobile phones? How did we pass the time? How did we connect with others, or get work done? It’s said that 2.95 billion people across the world are using social media, and this number is only rising. [source] With a third of the world using some sort of social media today, it’s interesting to think about what life was like before, and how social media came to be.
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How Did Social Media Become What It Is Today?
The social media we know today includes sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hundreds more. Social media actually started to make its appearance in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a site called Six Degrees. Social media sites began to slowly trickle into the early 2000s, staking their place in the newly emerging market. Before that, however, came the invention of new technology, like computers and the internet. By the 1980s, computers were common household items, and networks began to take flight. Blogging came about first, as people found a way to share their thoughts, hopes and dreams with others. This led into new sites like MySpace and eventually, Facebook and Twitter. As our technology changed and we began to consume more mobile media, social networking became a way to stay constantly online with others and have a whole world of information in our back pocket. Let’s take a look into some examples of early social media, in addition to things we did before any form of social media was invented.
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This may bring you back- MySpace was somewhat like the original Facebook. It was a place similar to a Facebook profile page, where each user had their own “wall,” and they can include their favorite music, quotes and even rank their top friends. It was originally created for musicians and bands to share tour dates, but it expanded into a popular social networking site and hit its peak from 2005 to 2008. This was not the earliest social networking site, but its often brought to mind when people think of the boom of social media.
AOL Instant Messenger:
Otherwise known as AIM, this internet program created in 1997 allowed users to send short messages back and forth to their “buddies,” as well as show their online status to their friends and communicate in real-time. It was widely popular during the early 2000s as a way to get a message to your friends almost immediately, much like our current text messaging.
Magazines and Newspapers:
Many of us now get our news in a matter of minutes after it happens through Twitter, Facebook and push notifications from applications like the Wall Street Journal. Before we had this ability, people got their news from a physical newspaper every morning, where the biggest news from the last day or week was outlined in print. This is wildly different than the world we currently know; imagine if we couldn’t find out about national or local emergencies until it came out in your newspaper or you heard through the phone from a source. We caught up on the newest in lifestyle and pop culture from our favorite magazines that we bought from news stands every week. We shopped for our favorite clothes and looked for stylistic inspiration from hard-copy print, instead of scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest.
Between the rise of the internet and the implementation of social media, communication through technology was limited to email services. Communicating through email at the time was seen as a revolutionary invention, as it allowed person to person communication at an increased speed in comparison to hand-written letters. You could put your thoughts and feelings into writing and share it with another person in a matter of minutes. At the time, it probably felt like it was instant, but in our current age, waiting for an email to send and to receive a reply can feel like ages compared to text messaging or instant messenger. However, when email came along, it changed the way business was done. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn’t use email in some form today.
Now, it seems like a luxury to receive a hand-written note in the mail from a loved one, but before social media, writing letters to those who you were far away from was a common tactic to stay in touch with friends and family. Before social media and even before technology, writing a note and sending it through the mail was one of the only ways to let your family know that you were okay and give them updates about your life. Nowadays, some people in the younger generations may not even know the process to mail something.
Our world has changed exponentially in the last 40 to 50 years. If you weren’t around during the times that people communicated and received their media through platforms other than social media, traveling back in time to experience a day in the life would probably shock you. Technology has made great jumps in success, especially in the last 20 years, and it only continues to expand, with a new iPhone or computer coming out practically every year. While we reminisce about the ways of the past, take a moment to appreciate social media for the opportunities it can provide us, especially in business.