Social media is a young but rapidly developing field. Its current level of popularity and recognition suggests its importance not only from the purely material perspective but also as a significant phenomenon in contemporary life. Due to its young age and highly dynamic pattern of development, it is not supported by the reliable theoretical framework. The aim of the current paper is to establish a connection between film theory and social media by identifying the intersection points of their principles. The suggested connection is expected to improve understanding from both a theoretical and practical standpoint.
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One of the key intersection points that support the implication of a connection between the two media domains deals with the fundamentals of film theory. According to the early theorists, films can be distinguished from similar types of media (e.g. the photography) by the fact that the images are not accompanied by the description of the movement (which would be true for the photography, for example). On the contrary, in film, the movement process, or the continuity, serves as an initial premise of the picture. Therefore, the film must be differentiated from the collection of successive still images and perceived as prioritizing the flow of time. This concept was famously pioneered by Gilles Deleuze and can be considered one of the defining principles of the film as an art form. In the simplest terms, the movement in films creates not only the image but also a time continuity, which differentiates it from many forms of visual art. In the overwhelming majority of instances, films treat time as a linear process and are therefore continuous from the observer’s perspective. In addition to serving as a framework for perceiving the information on the screen, it shapes the expectation of the viewers and serves as an ordering principle for both the artist and the observer.
In the case of social media, this time-based principle is less evident but still relevant. The easiest example is a twitter that organizes the information published by the users chronologically. While the relevance and popularity of the information can be considered decisive for the information intake, it is still necessary to acknowledge the time frame and continuity as a defining principle behind the observer’s perception. The same time-based presentation can be identified in other social network resources, such as Facebook, although additional mechanics may alternate the resulting continuity to a varying degree in each individual case. Interestingly, it can be argued that social media underwent the same transition from stillness towards continuity with the evolution of the technology and the growing popularity of the Web. Specifically, the early online resources were predominantly page-based – in other words, they presented the information in a piecemeal manner and without the emphasis on timeliness. Eventually, with the growing accessibility and popularity of the Internet, this changed towards a more dynamic approach. This process can be paralleled to the transition from the still images created by photography towards the time-conveying moving reality of a film. Admittedly, in the case of film theory, the suggestion made by Deleuze looks more obvious whereas the allegations of time-based nature of the social media seem unintuitive and somewhat vague. Nevertheless, two points should be considered in this regard. First, both types of media are governed by the principle of continuity in the process of presenting the content to the consumers. Second, social media is seriously under-researched in comparison to film and, as a result, does not have a well-established theoretical background. Such a setting significantly complicates the comparison between the two domains from the scholarly perspective, especially considering a much smoother transition towards the time-based format in the social media field.
The second point of intersection that unites the domains of film and social media is the approach to the involvement of the observers. While the film is traditionally viewed as a one-sided media with the viewer on the receiving end, some theorists suggest that numerous aspects of a movie allow the observers to actively participate in the process, at least on the perceptional level. For example, in most films that deal with mystery, the camera does not follow the actors at all times and will occasionally show the viewers bits of information that is unknown to the characters. This move is especially common in the detective genre, where the mystery is more often than not the key premise of the film. Such a move allows the director to provide the audience with the necessary amount of information to sustain their attention. In a certain sense, this disclosure serves as a dialog of some sort between the creating and the receiving ends of the process. Naturally, once the use of this technique was codified, it was eventually modified for other purposes, including engaging in a game with the viewer. In some cases, this process created a complex logical puzzle different from that which was presented to the investigator on screen. The works of Alfred Hitchcock are among the most familiar examples of such a situation since they often deliberately include the shots which are readily interpreted as clues but are later proven to be misinterpreted or are simply abandoned. Another necessary component of the described dialog with the viewer is the constant shift of characters’ motivation as perceived by the viewer. Also prominent in most of the Hitchcock’s works, it contributes to the attention span of the audience and, by extension, ensures the involvement of the viewers and the immersive qualities of the story.
The same immersion can be identified as one of the defining points of social media resources. On the surface, the social media websites obviously present a much greater degree of interaction between the system and the end-user as well as among the users in the hierarchy. However, it should be acknowledged that this type of interaction does not generate the same effect – in other words, it does not contribute to the involvement of the users. However, the principle is more evident once the underlying functions of social media are observed. In most instances, the important aspect of the online behavior of social media users is the desired effect that they plan to achieve by the action. Simply put, the main driver of the users’ actions is the desire to invoke a certain reaction from the peers, to be noticed by a specific person or a group, and, by extension, to achieve a certain status. Interestingly, most of the social networks provide a certain amount of freedom in observing the results of such interaction. Most notably, Facebook allows tracing the responses to many actions to their facilitators by providing numerous tools for tracking activities related to the user’s content. Such functionality is present to some degree in the majority of the popular platforms. In a sense, this can be described as an insight into the interconnection of the people’s motivations. Unlike the more generic interactions mentioned above, this aspect of social media is highly involving, especially with regard to the fact that the observed interactions are bound to reality as opposed to the explicitly fictional nature of the film. Admittedly, the identified aspect is not a primary direction of social media evolution, but its role is currently significant enough to be considered potentially growing in importance over the years. Currently, it is possible to describe the situation with social media as at least partially resembling the logical constructions pertinent to certain film genres, which is sufficient to establish a connection between these domains.
The identified intersection points suggest the existence of significant similarities between the fundamental principles of film and social media. While it is early to reach any meaningful conclusions without confirming the allegations by further research, it is already possible to identify several advantages offered by the suggested theory. First, it offers the possibility to enhance our understanding of the principles of development of the social media domain. First, as was noted above, the concept of continuity as a defining feature of social media resources is not apparent and requires a review of the current knowledge about the principles of the media. If we assume that the similarities pointed out above can be interpreted as a sign of a more encompassing unity of principles, it would be easier to establish the direction for subsequent studies on the matter. In addition, such a connection may provide us with an improved understanding of the principles of development in the field. It would be safe to say that social media is currently in its infancy, and the direction it might take in the course of its evolution is hard to foresee. However, if we are able to obtain evidence that it shares at least some of its characteristic features with film theory, it would then be possible to predict certain key aspects of its evolution by deriving the information from the history of the latter.
From a practical standpoint, such a connection would allow for certain shortcuts for those who work with social media. The easiest example is the marketing aspect of social media. The understanding of the importance of motivation and the ability to detect it in the created content increases the chances of success of a marketing effort made by the professionals in the field. Even more promising, the possibility to link it to film theory provides us with an enormous database of existing solutions which may be adjustable for use with the emerging media. It is possible that some of the more traditional ways of engaging the viewers familiar with film theorists will find their application in the social media segment and increase its value as media.
Admittedly, the described connection is currently mostly speculative in nature. Therefore, in order to establish a reliable theoretical approach, it would be necessary to conduct additional research that would verify the described connections and possibly identify new ones. Once this is accomplished, the resulting information would expand the theoretical background of both media types. Admittedly, the impact on the understanding of film theory is expected to be minor since it does not aim at the introduction of new concepts in the field. Instead, it will provide us with valuable knowledge on the development principles of social media and, hopefully, the specific ways of achieving better results in the process of engaging the audience.