The Fifth Estate

Before social networking sites, I, like many of you, probably lived in a vacuum. My thoughts were my own. If I wanted to know what other people were thinking on any given topic, as a member of the CBS Network affiliate “press corps,” I would just ask.

The answers came back in the form of what we called MOS (Man on the Street). And we, The Fourth Estate, as we were affectionately known, thought the unscientific poll was the best way to share with the world what our neighbors were thinking and feeling.

And then came Y2K…At the time, we thought the Y2K bug would change life as we knew it. It was alleged that when the date rolled over to 01-01-00, computers everywhere wouldn’t understand the year to be 2000 but 1900, and the computer’s memory would be wiped out.

Remember how computer programmers worldwide worked feverishly to fix “the bug” to ensure all our data would remain safe.

We thought planes would drop out of the sky, trains would come to a screeching halt, and traffic lights would go haywire. Since many of us weren’t born before 1900, shudder the thought, we all believed we would cease to exist.

Well, 2-0-0-0-oops-out-of-time came and went without a blip. It was safe to turn on the computer again. But was it really “Safe”? “Safe” was subjective. At least if you were a member of mainstream media. When we did turn on our PCs, slowly but surely, social message boards such as Corona Productions-Coming Attractions for movie geeks, for people of color, and, which seemed to be the meeting place for Asians, became the gathering place to exchange ideas, long-held beliefs,, news, and opinions.

The Y2K bug did indeed occur, but it came in the form of a virus that caused epidemic levels of not what we initially feared, which was the loss of information but instead widespread awareness.

The world became smaller, segregated not by ethnic groups, age, religion, or even language but by ideology. Screen names and avatars replaced photos, and with our new online persona, we found people who believed in what we thought, and we formed coalitions.

Instead of our knowledge base shrinking, these new social networking sites allowed our knowledge base to expand. If we wanted to participate in these online social networks that were springing up, if we wanted “to be cool” in yet another world, we were forced to evaluate our belief system.

We couldn’t fake our long-held beliefs online because our only way of communicating was through our words. The way we structured our sentences told our story…The way our story read determined our “group.”  Harsh? Yes and No. Online forums are open to everyone, and it is possible to “Get in, where you fit in,” and no one is relegated to any one group for long. As we’ve realized in the social networking world, “our aptitude and attitude determines our altitude.”

As a result of our inherent need to be accepted, we’ve learned again for the second time in as many millennia that the earth is not flat, and the sun does not revolve around the planet. It shatters the ignorance and exploding myths that allow us to emerge through the darkness and stand on equal footing. I can’t help but think, is this the dream Dr. King envisioned? Maybe?

Although Social Networking is still in its infancy, many of us are unsure what to do with this newfound knowledge and transfer of thought…We no longer need the Fourth Estate to tell us what is going on in the world or even our own backyard. In this first decade of the new millennium, we have used Social Networking as a cyber “town hall”; we’ve used it to elect a President who promised us change. We have used Social Networking sites to mourn the loss of icons, heroes, and even people we’ve never known until they passed tragically.

At the dawn of a new decade 01-01-10, Social Networking can now take its rightful place as The Fifth Estate. No one speaks for us; we are now our own voice. As I write this tonight, I wonder, will anyone listen to us tomorrow?

2009 (c) MH