Social Pervasiveness

A recent study* out of Massey University in New Zealand noted that due to the seamless blending of alcohol advertising into social media and smartphone technology, the government will have a difficult time regulating the depth and breadth of content displayed.  The university studied 154 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, and found that social media use led to an extension of drinking habits.

“Facebook was embedded in these people’s drinking cultures. They used Facebook to gain information about drinking, places, people, products to organize when they go out, to share photos about drinking … to interact while engaging in a drinking session. They use it to connect with alcohol brands and products and to receive alcohol promotions.

There’s a lot of viral marketing going on. The distinction between whether the online materials are made by a user or a brand is blurred. It seems like it is coming from a friend and not an alcohol product.”

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I was recently engaged in a discussion with one of my college roommates on how our use of social media has evolved over the years.  Facebook’s layout itself has changed radically over the course of my college career, as has the way it is being used.  As a freshman in 2007, its popularity and usage among young people was only two, maybe three years old, and was not yet solidified as an interpersonal sharing tycoon.

Obviously as my personal tastes and preferences have matured, so have the ways in which I chose to utilize my social media profiles.  But as excitable 18-year-olds, the most rewarding use of Facebook was through peer validation of our “coolness.”  We were eager to prove to our high school friends that we were thriving socially in our new environments, and just as eager to amass new friendships and levels of inclusion & stature.  What better way to demonstrate social value than by consistently appearing in photos depicting scenes of excessive partying and outlandish stunts?

Flash-forward to senior year, fall 2010: enter the weekend clubbing anthem for my class. An ode to decadence and revelry; an homage to excess and the popularity attached to it.

Actually, let me take a moment to properly analyze the first verse of this immense party cut:

“Poppin bottles in the ice, like a blizzard /
When we drink we do it right, gettin’ slizzard /
Sippin’ sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6 /
Now I’m feelin’ so fly like a G6″

Line 1: Excess amounts of champagne; a picture of decadence.
Line 2: Becoming so amazingly inebriated, it requires the invention of a nonsensical adjective just to convey the mental state.
Line 3: Abusing cough syrup for the hallucinatory effects, a la popular rap outfit Three 6 Mafia.
Line 4: Appearing as socially valued as the hottest automobile on the market.

Yes, this is what college kids aspire to.

And it is exactly this appeal that causes line to become so blurred between alcohol branding initiatives and user-submitted endorsements.  Because alcohol is the currency of cool among young people, they willingly trade it amongst themselves.  And it is no secret that social media is always mining our data for marketing cues.  The more we freely offer up our preferences & loyalties, the more the capitalist market economy will push them right back in our faces.

The point is, where there’s social media, there will be inherent discussion or visualization of alcohol.  At this very instant – 2:30AM on a Friday night – I’m sure many of my peers are exchanging messages and coordinating plans that are based around alcohol, in one way or another.  Perhaps not directly or blatantly, but just by proxy of the fact that people in their 20’s most often socialize in the presence of alcohol.

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And sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – they look like this.

Additionally, there are many ways to send and receive information that contains alcohol within its message.  A Facebook status about that round of Irish Car Bombs you ordered for the group at last call.  A Foursquare check-in about an afterhours club you’re connected enough to get in to.  A brief Tweet giving a lost friend directions to meet you on the next street corner.  A sepia-filtered Instagram photo of decadent behavior that would otherwise be lost to the hazy hours of the morning.  And so on, and so forth.

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Not to mention influence from the rich and famous, as our culture is obsessed with celebrity-worship. Seen here is Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill, casually and nonchalantly shrugging off the fact that he is too drunk…to do his job, as a musician in the studio.

It’s just something I have to become comfortable with.  These types of encounters are not going to disappear from life, just because my personal use of alcohol has.  I won’t lie – since my social outings with peers are few and far between for me right now, sometimes I do feel a bit like I’m missing out, because it’s so easy to see what everyone else is doing recreationally.

I try not to spend too much time with my nose in other people’s lives (because my own recovery really takes up the majority of my focus), but sometimes it’s unavoidable.  This is just one of those conditions of the disease that I have to endure, though.  Small price to pay, for a healthy, depression-free life.

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*http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10869894

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