Yesterday, I was blessed to have two folks respond to my request for topics. Here is the second that was submitted by Andrea. She wrote: “I am thinking a lot about social media influence and folks who claim to be more open to all walks of life but, if you have a question, they slam you for being uneducated. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for people trying to figure things out and learn in a safe environment. It feels a lot like the popularity clique back in high school where the loudest, smartest, and wittiest person wins; and we all must follow along with pom-poms, or we are losers. I am at the point in my journey where I am willing to do what it takes to find myself despite opposition or closemindedness – but what if you are not as brave as I am? I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way. I am almost 50 and done being a follower. I am concerned, however, for the younger generation who might feel they have to either just go along to get along or suppress questions. I’m terrified people are not allowed just to think and feel. This lack of connection has people doing crazy things like picking up guns. Again, I did not mean to sound dramatic. It’s just what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?”
Thanks, Andrea, for bring up the topic of social media and its impact on our lives. I have two thoughts regarding social media that I’ll share, and then I’d like to open it up to my readers to share their thoughts as well.
The first thought Andrea’s comments raise for me comes in the form of a question: what is the purpose of social media?
Of course, I can’t answer that question for everyone – but for me, social media serves two purposes. First, social media is a platform that informs me about what is going on in the PERSONAL lives of those I care about (be they personal friends or celebrities whom I respect). Second, social media provides a platform for entertainment. Through social media I can be exposed to memes, videos, and articles that I would otherwise not see. Much like the listings of a TV guide, I get to scroll through posts and check out those items I care to see. Those are the two purposes social media serves for me.
You will notice that I didn’t say social media is a place for me to learn. I don’t, for instance, use social media to tell me which candidate to vote for; which theological or philosophical tradition is best; or how I should feel about social issues. If I find a post that triggers my interest, I will leave social media behind and do my research elsewhere.
Because in my experience, people post or share only those things that fit their bent on a subject. The material is either incredibly slanted in its perspective or comes from a questionable source. That’s why I don’t use social media platforms as a learning tool.
I can’t tell you how helpful it has been for me to keep these two purposes in mind. It prevents me from getting sucked into conversations and debates that are hurtful.
This takes me to my second point (which is a sort of extension of my first). When it comes to matters of my personal development on various topics, I try to NEVER go through that process on social media.
For two reasons. First, since social media is largely a platform for entertainment, most folks don’t communicate in ways that are helpful. Rather, their goal is to get as much attention as possible (or – to use Facebook lingo – get as many likes as possible). Because of this desire for attention, people tend to resort to the sort of childish, crass behavior Andrea described above.
And secondly, the kind of sensitivity and support that one needs during periods of growth and transformation is rarely – if ever – exhibited on social media. That’s because that sensitivity and support is the kind borne of intimate relationships between two individuals (or, in some cases, a small community). That’s why I’m careful to use only things like Instant or Direct Message on social media platforms; texts; phone calls; or – gasp! – face to face encounters when I need sensitivity and support from others as I grow.
What saddens me most about social media is the way it brings out aspects of loved ones that I rarely see otherwise. For instance, I’ve seen some of the most kind, gentle souls who are tireless advocates for social justice and inclusion be instantly transformed into dogmatic, raging individuals who embody the very behaviors they are so quick to criticize in others.
So those are my suggestions, Andrea, for how to build a constructive relationship with social media: (1) remember what its purpose is (and ISN’T); and (2) know where to go to find the sensitivity and support you need during period of personal growth (here’s a hint: it’s rarely if ever social media!).
How about you? What issues do Andrea’s comments raise for you?