Comments on the Impacts of Social Media and Mobile Communication.

by trenzpruca

A social network diagram

A social network diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime in December 2011, I read a short opinion piece by Naomi Wolf in which she mentioned that she had noticed a trend by some young adults for the most part, to choose to live a lower impact lifestyle. This was not the quasi-religious back to nature life styles movement favored by the Hippies of the 1960s, nor was it the life of hopeless desperation that gripped much of the Nation in the 1930s. It seems instead that today the modern descendants of those prior movements are simply deciding on a simpler way of life because the alternative, even if accessible, is no longer as desirable. An ideal life based almost exclusively upon greed is being found unnecessary. For example, today one may satisfy much of ones social needs from home for a few pennies through the use of a smart phone.

The impact of this change on goals, as she pointed out, could be momentous. It does not take many people to decide, for example, that they do not need a second car for its reverberations, for good or ill, to be felt throughout society. In that example, the failure of the automotive industry to grow at a rate equivalent to population growth, replacement and a little more, would have severe consequences to the economy that cannot be remedied by lower prices or financing.

What Ms Wolf did not mention is that some of those entering their most economically productive years are the members of the social network, mobile information and entertainment generation. Their life style choices could exacerbate the economic and social impacts of the trend she writes about.

For example, our transportation, fashion, entertainment and a host of other choices, more often than not, require our traveling somewhere, frequently with the hope to impress those we meet along the way with our abilities, success or whatever else is important to either our income or our sense of self-worth. If we no longer need to travel as much to satisfy those needs, how does that affect the amount and type of clothing we buy, or cosmetics or the need for a second automobile and so on.

Conspicuous consumption of even some of the wealthiest among us may become less caused by acquisition of physical things then it is now. (Why two Ferrari when you do not need to alter your location for most of your social or business needs?) Some of us for instance may decide that public transportation, although longer in trip duration and often lacking in comfort, is mitigated by the fact that it may curtail your mobile, work, entertainment and social needs during your operation of a private vehicle. It would not require more than a few of us to make these choices for it to rock the economy in ways that standard financial theory is unable to manage, based as it is on production and finance. This could cause the economy to contract and perhaps collapse. Similarly it could impact infrastructure and the shape of cities, not to mention houses and offices.

Take for example transportation infrastructure. Should social media and mobile communication even slightly contribute to a decline in per person vehicle miles driven, much of current highway planning assumptions could be effected. For example, will planned additional new or expanded highways needed and if not what happens to the industries dependent on highway construction? What happens to existing highways if income for maintenance and replacement also decreases?

(Strange as it may seem, it perhaps that this social change more than technological invention or energy conservation that delay’s the impact of the hydrocarbon threat to the world’s climate.)