30 years ago I dreamed of having friends around the world, and how I would spend a portion of each day writing letters to them. Now I have those friends, but instead of paper and fountain pen, I sit at a computer and text with them in real time or via email. Social media has made so many wonderful things possible. I can find people who think like I do, who inspire and encourage me. I can keep up with friends and family I’ve known in-person, and those whom I’ve only met on-line. Social media keeps me in touch with what happens here in town, and across the world. I’ve learned so much.
But social media has drawbacks, too – there are pros and cons to everything. Here are five problems I see with social media:
- So much of human communication depends on body cues – a smile, a lift of the eyebrow, even a blank look. No matter how many emoticons they create, the written word, unless handled skillfully, cannot convey what the person really meant. Misunderstandings happen. There is something about being in the presence of the person you are “talking” with that may limit what you say. Sometimes this is a good thing, when you have an important thing to convey and being in front of the other person keeps you from saying it. But it is also easier to work yourself into a righteous frenzy and say stupid or even cruel things when the person is not there to immediately react. Then you hit “send” or “post,” and there is no taking it back. Taken to the extreme you get flame wars, where it is words and photos that burn and hurt others.
- Social media is immediate and easy to manipulate. Once if we wanted advice we asked a trusted family member or friend, or maybe a friendly nurse or spiritual advisor. This involved thought, and someone who had knowledge of your everyday life . . . where you lived, what you ate, how the advice might dovetail with your present. Now you can get advice from people in all walks of life, and some of them may not have your best interests at heart. Some are even scam artists. Do you know that person is who they say they are? And do you really want to make decisions in the next 10 minutes, or today, or tomorrow, based on their advice? Or even based on reading about what they have done?
- While it is wonderful to read about what friends and other people are doing in areas all over the globe, sometimes too much information is more than we can handle. Some ideas are meant to be mulled over and tasted slowly. When so much information comes at you so quickly, you may miss something important. Or reach overload and turn away completely. Some information may be what others think you need to read or hear, to be informed about current issues, maybe even to open your eyes to what is going on so you can stop it. But for those who feel deeply with the heart, it can be overwhelming. That recently happened to me on Facebook, so I stayed away from it for two weeks. I became less anxious and felt better about myself. Now I screen what appears on my News Feed, and hide or delete information that disturbs me. This is called taking care of yourself.
- Once something is posted on social media, it is out there for the rest of the world to see and do what they want with. Photos, comments, and personal information never completely disappears. It may wind up being used in ways you never meant or even considered. Newspapers may line the bottom of a bird’s cage and eventually be forgotten, but the electronic word lives on, and may come back and cause you grief when you least expect it.
- Social media can trivialize things that are important, and make trivial things seem important. Actor Ani G. just got a 5-carat ring from a rich boyfriend? Well, that’s nice, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? (Unless you are a good friend or close relative of Ani G., or thought he was buying the ring for you.) Discussion about tiny things may get just as much screen time as fracking in your home state and how that affects you. In fact, it will probably get significantly more screen time, because someone wants to distract you from the important issues that help them make money. This is manipulation on a much larger scale than what was mentioned earlier. And again, do you know if any of it is true?
I still have my Facebook account and this blog (even if I seldom post anymore). Social media has a place in our lives, but remember to question what it does for you. Question the “facts” you read, the memes that are so clever – remember that anything can be hacked and manipulated. And before you post or send anything, ask yourself this bit of Facebook wisdom: