My friend, we will call him Mike, posted a comment about The Guardian / The Observer article on the pending demise of humanity due to social media. I immediately responded to him on Facebook, using the Social Beat app on my Blackberry.
If you know me at all, you will not be surprised that I fully reject the idea that social media can make us stupid, anti-social, and lazy.
Stupid, anti-social, lazy people may find that social media causes those traits to come to the forefront, but if you are smart, authentic, and energetic, social media will further your quest for knowledge, create more relationships, and provide many more outlets for you to express yourself.
Let’s take my friend Mike for example: We grew up in the same town and attended rival high schools. Mike was ‘The Perfect Guy’ – sweet, cute, athletic, smart, all-around good kid. I was a complete dork and he was super nice to me, that’s how great he is. I think I saw him once after high school and then we lost touch, until that magical day his friend request showed up on Facebook. Now Mike and I are buddies; our high school friendship rebooted. Because of social media, I get to learn about his wife and kids, see pictures of their fun family adventures, and touch base on topics that are of mutual interest – like social media.
How could this be bad?
If I pretended that Mike and I are BFFs – that would be bad. If I stopped reading the news and decided only to get information from Mike – that would be bad. If I sat around all day and responded to every comment Mike posted – that would be bad. But being connected with Mike online is good for me.
I am a real, engaged, outgoing person who uses social media to enhance my life – personally and professionally – without depending on it to find my soul. MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes that “We have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us.” I guarantee my Blackberry makes me a happier, more productive person. I was without it for a week earlier this month and you should have seen what a wreck I was!
Paul Harris’ article from above mentions the Facebook suicide note of a girl that went unreported as evidence of our civil decline due to social networking. Sadly, teenagers were dumb before social media. My brother had a party when my mom was out of town and one of the girls got a knife and tried to end it all (maybe – we’re still not sure exactly what happened). Like the teens in the article, the kids at my mom’s house did not call 911, did not alert the girl’s parents, and did not follow-up with her later to see if she needed psychological help. They bailed and hoped that their parents didn’t find out they were at the party. This was 20 years ago. Teenagers today are affected by social media the same way previous generations of teens were affected by Elvis’ pelvic thrusts or the Beatle’s bowl haircuts.
Social media does not make us introverted loners. Social media is a channel for communicators. In fact, I bet it makes life easier for those who are shy and less comfortable communicating en masse. Just look how chatty I am here!
All this hand wringing over social media reminds me of my favorite college assignment: reading the letters between Abigail and John Adams. Now I have to wonder, was there a sociologist screaming from the rooftops that the President and First Lady were not really communicating because they were using parchment and an ink well instead of smoke signals?
Anyone who has received an intimate love note, a postcard from a distant friend, a cable from a long lost family member, a call from a Grandmother or Grandchild, an email from a close confident, or a text from a favorite tween knows that communication comes in many forms. You can be authentic, smart and enthusiastic while communicating through technology – if you are in fact those things. You can also develop great, meaningful, deep relationships with people you never or rarely see.
I may be a little on the mushy side, but I have friends that I adore whom I have never met. My life would be boring and lonely if I didn’t have them. The experts are wrong. Social media does connect people and it brings a broader sense of reality to our lives through words, pictures and images.