Looking back on 2011: A (virtual) walk down memory lane

As 2011 comes to a close, we’ve officially entered the “list” time of year. No, we’re not talking about the one being made and checked twice by the jolly fellow in the red suit for later this month; we’re talking about the flood of media coverage recounting the top memories of the past 12 months.

Chances are you’ve been moved by the 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011, or you’ve smiled in recognition (or shaken your head in disbelief) while reviewing Google’s 2011 Zeitgeist site, the 11th annual look back at the searches that compose the “spirit of the time.”

But as fascinating as those lists are, the one I’ve found most compelling, to-date, is Mashable’s 19 Biggest Social Media Moments of 2011. Why? Because at the beginning of each year everyone speculates on which trends will take off in the following 365 days, but it isn’t until we look back that we realize the true impact that some have had on the world. And social media has been a common thread throughout many of the moments we’ll remember from 2011.

Ask one generation where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, when Reagan was shot, when the OJ Simpson verdict was announced and when the twin towers were struck, and you’ll get one answer. Ask this generation where they were when Osama Bin Laden was declared dead, when the earthquake shook Japan, when the Casey Anthony verdict was read and when Steve Jobs passed, and you’ll get quite another.

But social media’s ability to allow us to relay and receive information instantaneously around the world isn’t the only legacy here; it’s also fueled revolutions, riots and reform. This newfound, organic means of communication among leaderless protesters allowed them to mobilize in Cairo, London and even on our own soil with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement. Need more evidence of this impact? Look no further than TIME magazine’s recent choice of “The Protester” as its 2011 Person of the Year, which MarketWatch writer Jon Friedman cited for having reshaped the world, showing how individuals could make a major difference once united.

Many have criticized TIME’s choice, calling it a copout, but the magazine’s reasoning is that “leadership has come up from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.” Social media has given a voice to the masses, allowing them to voice frustrations with government, the economy and social inequality by tweeting, commenting on Facebook, writing blog posts and uploading photos and videos to the web. And according to TIME, this combination of “the oldest of techniques with the newest of technologies” has allowed us to “shine a light on human dignity [and steer] the planet on a more democratic though sometimes more dangerous path for the 21st century.”

So as 2012 draws nearer, we’re once again in that awkward limbo where the past is being recounted and the future is being predicted. How many of Mashable’s top social media moments do you remember from 2011? And are you willing to hazard a guess as to what’s ahead in the year to come?

We would love to hear your predictions in the comments below.


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