It’s difficult to remember the days before communication became instantaneous. Thanks to the internet we no longer have to wait for the daily newspaper or snail-mail. Now, news and information is relayed the moment it happens and the ordinary person is an integral part of that process. Social media especially makes instant information sharing possible. These dedicated servers enabling people to contact each other and share news are sometimes dismissed as nonsense, but in reality social media is a major factor in the communication revolution.

Trends Come and Trends Go

“Trending” is a phenomenon coming out of websites such as Twitter and 4Chan. From the endless stream of information flowing from these dedicated servers, popular topics begin to emerge, or “trend.” When social media users post and re-post a topic multiple times, the topic gains exposure at an exponential rate and goes viral. Trending topics can become immensely popular and receive an astronomical number of views. However, any given topic maintains its popularity only for a short time. As soon as a piece of news reaches its peak, the next big thing comes along to take its place.

Trending produces mixed effects in the online community. Trending enables people and pieces of news to achieve sudden popularity and receive millions of hits in the space of a few hours. Additionally, plenty of trending topics have nothing to do with talent or quality, much less with newsworthiness. Many a ridiculous video clip uploaded to Youtube has received millions of hits thanks to social media.

Another dimension to the rise of social media is the Smartphone. Smartphones do not alter the Internet in the same way social media has, but they do increase people’s access to it. Rather than wasting time standing in line, people occupy themselves with their Smartphones. The growing use of Smartphones increases the flux of information received and relayed by any one person, contributing even more to the pace of trending topics. Additionally, special social media apps allow people to upload pictures, videos, and messages from the unlikeliest of places. In some cases, people become “citizen journalists,” sharing footage and audio of important events that might otherwise never be known to others. Smartphones enable news to be shared as quickly it happens rather than after the event has passed.

Democracy on the Web

The Internet is radically democratic. An individual is able to create a website on a dedicated server using cheap web hosting just as easily as a major corporation. Anyone who wants to drive traffic to their site must respond to the will and desires of its intended audience. The sheer mass of information pulsating through the Internet makes even a million-dollar ad campaign easy to miss. Companies must strive to create interesting, attention-grabbing content or else risk fading into obscurity. On the other end of the spectrum, individual developers are able to write simple games that achieve enough popularity to generate income. The democratizing power of the Internet means that money is no longer a guarantee of success. The Internet and social media make it possible for a regular person using cheap web hosting to achieve a bit of notoriety.

Rapid information sharing is just one use of social media. Individually-created websites themselves are also a form of social media, although these operate at a different pace than Twitter feeds. Some individuals create their own free-standing websites using dedicated servers and cheap web hosting . Less tech-savvy Internet users take advantage of free or inexpensive blog hosting sites such as WordPress to create their own spaces on the web. Blogs and free-standing websites enable the production of more comprehensive knowledge, as opposed to the one-liners and quick links characteristic of sites like Twitter.

Blogs, social media platforms like Twitter, cheap web hosting, and Smartphones have majorly impacted the online community and its ability to broadcast information. These tools allow us to receive and share information at mind-boggling speeds. Moreover, there is no limit to the type of information that we are able to share. Trending topics emerge from the Internet “stream of consciousness,” stick around for a few hours, and disappear. The information we pass along is sometimes the hard-hitting, important stuff, but more often includes bits of casual conversation, jokes, and things we simply find interesting at the moment.