By Jeremy Swan
On October 7, 2011, Jeremy Swan presented at the fall NICHD Exchange Meeting, “Getting the Message Out: From Social Media to Grass Roots Campaigns.” His engaging and personal narrative was influenced by “Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style,” by Randy Olson, a book that he highly recommends.
Facebook is the worlds largest photo library, containing 4% of all photos in the world, dwarfing Flickr and the Library of Congress put together.
A combined 300 million unique viewers visited YouTube, VEVO, Yahoo, and Facebook in April 2011.
There are over one billion subscriptions on YouTube—the Royal Wedding has been viewed more than 100M times on YouTube alone.
Facebook currently has 800 million users, up 50 million since July 2011.
Over 230 million tweets a day were made in September 2011.
YouTube averages 3 billion views a day
50% of employers use Twitter and 60% use Facebook in the process of hiring employees
In September of 1997, I left for basic training in the army. At that time, 70% of Americans lacked a basic Internet connection (compared to 20% today). To keep in touch with friends and family, my fellow trainees and I wrote letters every day, hoping someone would write back since we were completely cut off from all news and homesick. Mail was slow, and including photos required resources and effort. Even though packages containing cookies were highly valued (by us and the Drill Sergeant), the technological advances to come would drastically alter and improve the way soldiers, along with the world, would communicate.
I eventually left the army to raise my children here in Maryland, far from my home state of Minnesota. The grandparents always wanted photos, so I moved into the digital realm, where I promptly began filling their inboxes with large images of my small offspring. To ease the strain on my family’s email storage, I soon began emailing links to html-based galleries that I created.
Around this time, in basements and dorm rooms around the world, many people were experimenting with writing, installing, and running server-based applications that facilitated easy sharing of photos and videos. These “grassroots” applications pioneered the way for mainstays, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, which have evolved to become user-friendly and useful enough to support a user-base equal to the population of China.
But what does this mean for science?
Tomorrow’s scientists have many new ways of interacting with the world. The potential for open science is rapidly becoming reality. Online notebooks, high impact Journal of Visualized Experiments videos, and international Skype-based lab meetings are becoming the new norm. Scientists of the future have grown up with the Internet. The under 30 crowd who are “technology natives” don’t generally talk on the phone and watch TV much; instead, they post on Facebook and watch videos on YouTube.
I often hear Grandparents, my own included, bemoaning the fact that their grandchildren don’t interact with them anymore, opting to spend all their time on Facebook. Most new Facebook users are parents and grandparents coming to Facebook to interact and monitor the younger generations. This online youth will grow to fill our labs, bringing with them a penchant for online communication---a scenario that is not a possibility, but rather a reality.
We have already witnessed how blogging, the process of writing a web-based log, affects the way scientific findings are analyzed and interpreted. Reputable scientists are blogging about their thoughts on particular studies (both supportive and critical), and Twitter has allowed the viral spread of ideas via short “tweets.” Every public tweet, since March 2006, is now archived digitally at the Library of Congress. Micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter, should not be dismissed as fads.
This is our future, where blogging, commenting, tweeting, wiki posting, and sharing are all part of every day life. It’s easier than ever to share text, photos and videos with many people around the world, almost instantaneously. It’s a not a question of whether or not science will embrace this new form of communication, for the younger generation will naturally fill laboratories, public policy offices, and news outlets with social media-driven technologies. The question to ask yourself is whether or not you are prepared for the transition.