Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pros of Social Media

Is this era of rising “mega data” and issues about privacy and control of our identity in the online world…we are experiencing rising concerns about our uses of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. While I think many of these concerns are valid, I also don’t think we should “throw the baby out with the bathwater”.  There are many things we can do to control access to our online identities, photos, posts and dialogues.  Most people simply don’t take the time to manage their “privacy settings” in Google, Facebook, etc. which ends up making them more likely victims of the downside of the internet world.  Most people should do more to limit access to their personal details in the online space…including myself.

The other danger in social media is letting technology and machines take too much control of our lives. I get concerned with the growing obesity in our society much of which can be attributed  (besides over-sizing our meals) to many stationary hours sitting in front of computers or on our cellphones. I also get concerned that I see a lot of vacant playgrounds and neighborhood streets in America anymore.  It seems kids don’t “go out and play”, ride bikes or have neighborhood pickup baseball, football or hockey games like we did in my childhood. It tells me that a majority of kids are spending way too much time on computer games and indoor, solo activities that can stifle their personal, social and physical development. This will affect the balance of souls in our future society.

That being said, I must balance this theme with some positive observations of what social media via the internet has brought to our lives.  When used effectively and with discipline, social media brings significant advantages to our short lives. When we maintain balance and controls, I think there are more pros than cons to participating in social media.  Here are a few advantages I have observed:

Ø  The primary advantage of social media is that it has helped overcome the fact that our society is more mobile and spread out than it was just 50 years ago.  There have been huge changes in what percentages of people leave their hometowns and immediate families in pursuit of adventure, careers, etc.  People change jobs and geographic location more than six times as much as they did 50 years ago. In those days, family members that moved away were often disconnected without communication for weeks, months or even years at a time. I remember my grandparent’s generation where their siblings were spread out all over North America. If they lived far from aging parents, they were lucky to talk to each other a few times per year.  Long distance phone was very expensive and even unavailable for many.  Written letters were the mode of the day, but often the working class was too busy surviving to have the time or energy to write.  Nowadays we simply check and write emails to each other…many or us every day…to those family and friends closest to us, even the ones who live locally near us.

Ø  One of the fastest growing demographics of internet use is the elderly. This is because retirees and the like have more flex time to peruse the internet and communicate with each other or keep in touch with their children and grandchildren.  While my parental units were all very reluctant to adopt and use computers in their lives as working adults…I doubt they would now want to go back to pre-internet isolation or simply depending on TV and radio for their news and information.  The internet along with social media opens up the whole world to anyone equally who wants to pursue it, and while there is often overflow of information and data to consider…we can learn to use our computers intelligently and not get caught up in all the frivolity or falsehood that is available on it.  It’s all how we use it…or not…that makes the difference in social media.

Ø  There are many people who for whatever reasons seem very inhibited expressing themselves in person. So many of us develop inhibitions to social interaction based on self-consciousness, fear of rejection or low self-esteem.   Yet I have noticed some people in my circle of family and friends deemed too bashful or timid to share their lives really “come out of the closet” via written messages and/or photos on social media.  It is obvious they want to know and be known…but somehow it just seems easier for many to let their hair down via their computer and social media. Social media can be very revealing of our humanity….and in most cases I embrace this new openness to our thoughts and feelings in society.  Of course, I draw the line at needing to know what time you went to the bathroom today, and some people’s anger and venom is best saved for a mental health specialist than thrown out there into cyberspace for everyone to shudder and run away from. But all in all, most of the people I am friends with online are balanced and use the media positively.  People that we don’t want to deal with…well, we can just delete them from our list and it is not a crime.

Ø  There are many advantages of social media I could mention such as more easily sharing information on where to buy things or finding out how to do things from the simple to the complicated.  But the most impactful thing to my thinking is that social media helps us in a short time keep up and learn from so many people in our lives in a way that would never have been possible just 20 years ago.  While it can be overwhelming if we let it, it seems mostly good that I am able to observe hundreds of people’s lives via social media at a depth and volume that would be impossible in person.  Life is just too short to have all the conversations with all the people we might like to have…but somehow…depending on our capacity…we can share, observe, empathize, applaud, encourage, and spread positivism and love to a much wider range of people than we could previously with our geographic and time limitations.

Much in our lives has been accelerated because of technology, and while it is still important to “smell the roses” and enjoy a personal embrace or intimacy of a kiss…social media is bringing to many a whole new level of interconnection and mind-share that was previously impossible to accomplish.  Many of our lives are fuller and richer for it, even in the reality of our growing solitude.