Social Media Does Not Disconnect Us.

social networkingI don’t usually rant, but I do reserve the right to. So here it is.

I’m really sick of hearing people say social media causes us to be disconnected. I’ll answer that with two words: Bull. Crap.

Obviously there are times when we become engrossed in our smart phones and should pay more attention to those around us. But what’s the difference between a smart phone and a book, video game or any other interest that can take over and interfere with interpersonal relationships?

In my own life, my social media connections have served to establish relationships and strengthen existing ones. I owe my career today to connections first established via Twitter.

On Facebook, I’m connected to and interact frequently with people I’d never have talked to otherwise. I have friends with whom I share common interests that I haven’t met in person. One woman I’m friends with on Facebook has been a friend of my mother’s all my life — I’ve known her in a Mrs. So-and-So way, but now enjoy and interact with her as an adult friend.

Social networks are like anything else in life; you can use them in a healthy manner and they will enrich your life. Use them obsessively and in a way that isn’t productive or helpful and it’s a problem.

Same with books. Music. TV. Radio. Movies. Hobbies. Sports. Work. Alcohol. Drugs. I’ve even known people who use reading the Bible as a way to escape being with others.

I’m more connected because of my obsession with activity on social networks. When the tornado sirens go off in Memphis and I’m the only one here, I’m still not alone when I sign on to Twitter and there are plenty of friends telling me to be safe and cracking jokes to break the tension just a little.

If your use of social media is dysfunctional, don’t blame the medium. Blame yourself, because if Facebook and Twitter were sucked into a cyberspace black hole, you’d still find a way to make a mess of your relationships.

How has social media impacted your life? Are you more connected or less?

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7 Responses to Social Media Does Not Disconnect Us.

  1. Abbye West-Pates February 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Woo, sassy! I liked your writing. Good line here: “…if Facebook and Twitter were sucked into a cyberspace black hole, you’d still find a way to make a mess of your relationships.”

    However, I am a voice for caution against social media, networking, etc. I’ve never claimed for it to personally disconnect me – I agree with you, it often begins/strengthens relationships. What I do see is that, as a culture, it makes us (and this is only an argument/theory) more apt to chime in on, speak opinionatedly about, etc. topics or people’s personal issues in a way the we would never do face-to-face.

    Is this a new thing? No, we could still be opinionated about people behind their backs; but along with our free speech culture, we take this to the Inter-waves.

    But your article is a good reminder: It’s probably us who’s the problem!

    • beth g sanders February 15, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Abbye, good point – yes, I agree that many of us — especially younger folk — are more apt to be mean online than in person. But I think it ultimately goes back to character, and if we want to be nasty, we humans can always find a way.

      As far as willingness to chime in – sometimes good, sometimes not. Downside si that it’s definitely easier to contribute an uneducated, ill-thought-out opinion. But often I read a controversial post and I’ll read through all the comments – it helps me see that there are other points of view, and that some of those I disagree with may have :: gasp :: really thought out their opinions and have ideas I can still learn from.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Nathan Brasfield February 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I strongly agree with you Abbye. There is a huge problem with this and basically I think we need to develop (if we aren’t already) a set of mores for how we engage in discussion online. To where it is seen as bad manners or even unfashionable to have an attitude online that you wouldn’t have in person. But I could testify myself to how social media has led to in-person interaction rather than doing away with it.

    Beth has very good ideas about the good things social media can be used for, and they’re going to be all the more important with where it looks like the church is heading. Wish you were around the offices for it! :(

    • beth g sanders February 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      Nathan, I agree. Sadly, I think folks who are disingenuous online are probably the same way in real life. So once again it goes back to character.

      And ditto your last sentence – I miss Abbye too!

  3. Owen Weddle February 16, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    If I may add my two cents, coming from a psychology perspective: I think there is a middle ground on the issue. Social media can foster connection or it can emotionally disconnect us. Its health depends on how we use it. Vitamins do not necessarily make you have unhealthy eating habits, but if you for some reason use vitamins to overcome horrible eating habits, then vitamins are not good for you.

    Put another way, does social media enrich our connections to each other? If social media serves as the foundation for our relationships, the nature of the medium can have detrimental effects on our social life. But if we use it as a supplementary tool, it is a great and enriching thing.

    The prime, at-risk people are pre-teens and young teenagers who are in the process of learning how to socialize and socialize well. If they use social media as the principle form of connection, the nature of the medium will serves to weaken aspects of social relationships that are automatic but very important for healthy relationships (such as awareness of facial expressions and tone, regulation of negative emotions, etc.). Social media does not really require or make possible those behaviors, and thus they will not be as well developed. And the already present downsides of internet communication for many users (lack of empathy, anonymity and lack of physical presence fostering anti-social behaviors, etc.) will be amplified for them.

    On the flip side, persons with high social anxieties and few natural social skills can connect more easily via social media, which is a good thing for them. It can serve as a bridge to relationships that may hopefully blossom to more fruitful, warm, and personal contact.

    • beth g sanders February 17, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Owen, great insights, thanks so much for weighing in.

      I especially love your point about social anxiety – I personally know some of those folks.

      You’re right on about teens and preteens and interpersonal skills. My own girls are older (20 and 23 now), so social networks weren’t an issue during those years for us, but we did have AOL chat and I limited their time for those very reasons.

      You analogy about the vitamins is apt – it’s all in how you use it.

      I think parents need to clue in about technology and get on top of it – kids need guidance and oversight as they learn to navigate online.

      Thanks again for your great comment!

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