I had a strange dream earlier this week. I dreamt that Twitter had died, and so had Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn and all the other social media platforms. Just one day all of it had vanished. It was unnerving.
Social media has been demonized lately. Forbes magazine had an article on the 6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health. Contributor, Alice Walton, wrote about how social media is addictive, it makes us sad, it provokes us to make unhealthy comparisons of our lives to others, it can make us jealous and so on. That may be true for some, especially teenagers, where social media is used as a weapon to “one-up” each other.
But what about the rest of us? I don’t own a TV, and I only listen to streaming radio. The only way I hear the news is via social media. Twitter happens to be useful for national and international news headlines. Andrew Hutchinson wrote an interesting piece in Social Media Today about why Twitter is important. “Twitter’s strength is real-time.” It’s what’s happening right now, right this minute. If I find a news headline that catches my eye, I will further investigate. I don’t have to suffer the constant speculation and analyzation of the TV news to get to the real nugget. Paris is flooding? Got it. “North Korea sanctions are strangling this city?” Got it. I’ll have to look into that when I have a moment.
Social media isn’t just for worldwide news, but local news as well. It’s because of Facebook that I found out the only bridge to our island would be closed for inspection Monday. The local island Facebook group page keeps me informed about community activities or notices. If it weren’t for Facebook, we wouldn’t be touch with classmates, cross country colleagues, and cousins in a way that we are now. I am not a great letter writer or caller. I should be, I wish I were, but in all reality, I’m not, I never was. It doesn’t take me but a few minutes to reach out on Facebook, whereas writing a letter is a time commitment I can’t make, especially if I have several letters to write. Facebook has also been an excellent platform for helping one another. (Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS?) Because of Facebook, I found out that a former student of mine was in need of some household goods. I was downsizing so I reached out to offer him everything I no longer needed. Without social media, I might never have known his need.
Instagram and Snapchat allow me to immediately stay in touch with my friends throughout the day. Barb and I Snapchat each other (sometimes several times a day). It is a way we get to be a part of each other’s lives every day and bridge the hundreds of miles between us. I also see my toddler grandson every day on Instagram. I get to watch his milestones, rather than just hear about them. I don’t miss nearly as much as I would have before the digital age.
LinkedIn allowed me to post my resume, nationwide. In the age before digital media, I would have had to stick to local businesses or send my resume off to a headhunter. Now an employer can get to know me through my various social platforms from the comfort of their office, hundreds of miles away. Careers have been made and destroyed based on an individual’s social media (Anthony Weiner anyone?). Which is why it is crucial to safeguard your accounts and be careful what you say or do.
Social media has even become a valuable tool for businesses. Jason French wrote in Entrepreneur magazine explaining, “The more your business engages with people, the more likely you are to build emotional connections with them.” Businesses are using social media to reach clients they would have never been able to reach before the social media age.
Tumblr and Pinterest have empowered people to plug into a community of people with similar interests, projects, hopes, and desires. I have taken on new hobbies, tried new recipes and fixed things I never would have dreamed I could fix all with the help of these various platforms. In some regards, social media has made me more aware. Before social media, I had no idea what “zero waste” was all about. Now I know, and I am endeavoring to incorporate some of those practices (found on Pinterest) into my life. It just might make me a better person.
My 76-year-old mother and her 70-year-old brother are taking on new hobbies with the tutorials from Youtube. They are about to get into walking stick carving. I didn’t see that one coming. Social media gives people an opportunity to share their skills and passions. Instead of sharing my poetry with friends and family only, I am able to receive feedback from a global audience. As a poet that is invaluable. The like-minded have a way of finding each other. Who knew cat lovers could find each other on Reddit?
We are able to find encouragement when we need it. People suffering from disabilities or trauma can discover chat groups and support using various social media platforms. Sharing our experiences with others can empower and mobilize us to action in a way that was not possible before.
While there are some drawbacks to communication in the tech age, overall, social media is a good thing. Like anything, we need to be responsible and mindful of our use. We don’t need to check our phones in the middle of a family dinner. It’s okay to hang out with friends and not check our Instagrams. Remember social media is a tool to be used for our benefit, not our detriment. It is a continually evolving technology, and there is no going back. Turns out Twitter isn’t dead after all. The digital age is here to stay.
What role does social media play in your life? Do you find it helpful or harmful?
Let me know in the comments below.
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