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Social Networks
The first known social media platform, Six Degrees, was launched in 1997 1. In the following years blogging sites began to gain popularity. However, it is only in the last fifteen years that the importance of social media in our daily lives has increased exponentially. Since its launch in 2004, Facebook, a social media platform where users can post photos and information and link with other users, has gained over two billion active participants 2. Twitter, an online news and social networking platform, was launched in 2006 3. The influence of this social media platform is so huge that it has been suggested that Twitter influenced the result of the 2016 US presidential election 4. Another social media platform, YouTube, where you can watch and upload videos, was launched in 2005 5. Currently, there are one billion hours of YouTube watched globally every day 6. YouTube is ranked the second most popular website in the world with Google at number one and Facebook at number three 7. Other popular social media sites include Instagram, Pinterest, and Linkedin. All of these websites display the common features of sharing photos and words and being able to connect and communicate with other people. There are definite pros and cons associated with this rise in social media usage. Excessive use of social media not only wastes hours of our time, it can also result in physical and emotional harm. I believe that the increase in social media usage correlates with the increased ease in which we now travel and connect with people all over the world. Social media allows us to keep in touch and up to date with our global society. One of the great things about social media is the way it allows us instant update on the lives of family and friends across the globe. When I log into Facebook I can scroll down and see photos of my brother in law’s newborn triplets in Australia. Further down, I can see updates from the lives of good friends living in Norway. I might see a photo of delicious local food on Instagram from one of my cousins in Malaysia. These high-speed updates put an end to the tedium of waiting for news to arrive by mail. We can see what our friends and family have posted in seconds rather than weeks. It is also highly convenient to have all this information organized neatly in one place. The accessibility of these platforms appeals to the millennial generation’s tendencies towards instant gratification. This could be one reason why these social media platforms are highly popular. Humans are generally social beings and social media provides a platform for us to interact with other people. These interactions can affect your mood and can even have positive effects on your wellbeing. For example, you take an amazing photo on your smart phone. You upload the photo to Instagram, and instantly start receiving ‘likes’. A few people comment about what a great photo it is. This outcome can make you feel happy and proud of the photo you captured and the ‘likes’ you get can boost your self-esteem. The positive reaction to your post can encourage you to capture more awesome moments and post them online. You may begin to explore Instagram looking for other inspiring photos. Next you might browse the Internet for photography techniques to improve your own skills. This could even be the start of a budding photography career. Here is another scenario where social media can positively influence our lives. Imagine you are an athlete, for example, an extreme white-water kayaker. You create a video of yourself paddling various difficult rivers and dropping big waterfalls. You post the resulting compilation to Vimeo. A friend of yours shares this video and it is noticed by one of their connections. This friend of a friend happens to own a company that produces white water kayaking equipment. Next thing you know the kayaking equipment company has extended an offer of sponsorship. This support allows you to realize your aspiration to white-water kayak in many different locations around the world. You can also utilize Facebook to connect with other paddlers who want to travel to the same locations as you. Thanks to social media you can also easily find and watch videos of other white water athletes in order to improve your own skills and technique. These examples  demonstrate how social media can play an important role in enabling and inspiring us to follow our dreams. There are also biochemical reasons underlying our attraction towards social media. Dopamine is a chemical produced and released in our brain, which affects a number of our brain functions 8. Dopamine is relevant to our Internet use in the way it increases our drive to hunt and explore 9. In our primeval past this chemical was what drove us to seek out food and shelter and explore our environment 8. When we find something, we stimulate opined production, which makes us feel satisfied and allows us to cease our searching 9. Dopamine drives us to check up on our favorite social media sites and search the web for  answers 9. When we receive notifications of texts or emails our dopamine levels get another boost, this is due to the variable reinforcement schedule 8. As we do not know exactly when we might receive a notification our satisfaction is more powerful 8. Social media satisfies our growing needs as an instant gratification seeking society. Where previously we would have waited for weeks or months for news, now we can find out what is happening around the world instantly. Alongside delivering instant updates on the lives of our friends and family around the globe, social media provides us with entertainment, inspiration, and human connections. For many of us, access to social media has provided encouragement and learning opportunities. Millions of people have accessed YouTube tutorials to solve problems ranging from teaching your dog a new trick to changing the CV joints on your car with the help of friends. A small portion of the population even manages to make a living from social media. As we move towards becoming an increasingly global society, social media becomes more integrated in our lives. Social media is important in our lives because it allows us to keep up with global news, learn new skills and keep in touch with our global family.

Priscilla Simpson