Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why Social Media is Good for Us All

Recently I have heard again how social media is bad for us.   Our language and the nature of communication itself is said to be breaking down.  I have heard this before, when telephones became ubiquitous, letter writing suffered, when email was universal but costly we saw more contractions than a maternity ward 9 months after a blackout, when texting became common, who even answers the phone?  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter all gives us not only a singular chance to connect with others but also with the formerly unreachable.  Movie and sports stars, media people and of course the celebrity class all interact with ordinary people via those media.  It allows us to influence others we normally would not reach and frankly is partly responsible for the bringing down of tyrannical governments.  Now like anything it can be used to organize hate too, so I am not Pollyanna about it. Hate groups have found a wider audience, terrorists have become wizards of using it to organize from far away and of course the cyberbullying and destruction of reputations is common place.  But that is part of human nature.  We will always have the good and bad with anything.

But there is something special about social media that links people who have a common connection but not necessarily a bond.  We can follow the lives of high school friends who have grown away from us, sometimes finding a way to mend relationships broken over stupidity of youth.  We have a wider audience to share joys and sorrows and people who understand.  The death of a parent or sibling, a new grandbaby, a 25th anniversary and a diagnosis of cancer have all crossed my screen in the last few weeks.  We are more open with people because we can avoid the fear of that instant shock that often comes with a life changing event.  The distance of cyberspace allows for reflection that doesn't happen face to face and our response can be more measured and helpful I believe.

But whats more it has opened discussions that were so taboo that they had led some to remain in terrible situations or feeling alone.  Women in abusive or unfulfilled relationships found a place in the early days of chat rooms to work out their situations and find allies to help them move on or get help.  While the media screamed about the internet causing a rise in divorce if we looked at the actual reason for many of them we found that the relationships were not in great shape before AOL sent discs to us 5 times a day.  Even more so asking questions about subjects not easily discussed in person come up all the time.  Questions of health, sexuality, and economics all can more easily be expressed talked about and answered through various forms of social media than in person.  Sometimes talking to people that you are seeking advice or support from causes them to move away from you in flesh and blood moments but for some reason people seem willing to be there for people through the screen.

Even what I am doing right now is healthy for me.  Even if no one reads it.  It is my diary, my note pad, and while on occasion I get paid to speak to groups,  (reasonable rates and variety of topics, call me if you need a speaker) no one wants to simply hear me rant about things.  So I can rant here, you can choose to read or not, I can feel I got it off my chest and the world is in balance.

Each time media has moved forward and found a new way to connect people we run into those that will find everything that is wrong with it.  That is normal.  But I think that if we remember there is a real person on the other side of the screen and in the social media world they have chosen to check in on your life there is value there and we will learn to use it better.  

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