There aren’t too many times in life when I knowingly continue on in something that isn’t a good idea. Ok, granted, there are a few fast food drive-throughs in which I would be better served to suppress an every-now-and-then craving; routinely, however, I find myself re-examining a habit: is it good? … is it healthy? … or do I need to change some aspect of my behavior?
For years, I’ve enjoyed the contact and communication that comes via social media. I’ve been able to catch up and keep in touch with friends in a fairly fast and convenient way — from my school day besties, peers in Russia and Thailand, to old friends far and new friends near.
Facebook’s “friendaversaries” prompt thanksgiving for our enduring connections. Twitter’s tweets keep us current on the high school sports teams back home. And Snapchat and Instagram each make us smile, offering a real-time glimpse in what’s going on in the life of another. Some even add some rather unique and unusual facial features.
Yet I find myself again examining a somewhat simple idea: is social media good?
Is it good?
Assuming we have reasonable boundaries and the outlet becomes not a time-waster, keeping us from tending to all else that needs to get done in our day, are these websites and apps healthy for us to participate in?
The pictures of peonies and pups certainly brighten my day. The sports team shout outs also make me smile. Truthfully, I even find the daily deluge of pickle posts quite encouraging; while never a fan of the tiny, briny, and (in my semi-humble opinion) still slimy cucumber, at least my friends are thinking of me!
But the question of goodness arises beyond the pickles and puppies. It’s when we substitute a thread or a post for authentic conversation — especially when we’re talking about serious stuff. As one who was exposed to significant conflict growing up, it’s not that I love conflict; it’s more that I believe strongly in handling it well. If we could learn to communicate more respectfully and listen more selflessly in the existence of conflict, I believe we could damper the intensity and avoid much of the relational, collateral damage.
The challenge is that Facebook and Twitter do not do the above; stereotypical participation does not promote respectful communication nor selfless listening. When I utilize my 140 character allowance to opine, for example, that is not dialogue; that is not authentic conversation. It is simply instead a rephrasing of “I just have to say”… “let me tell you how I feel”… or “this is how I think.” How I feel or think does not require me to respect the feeling or thinking of any other. If there is no need to respect the feeling or thinking of another, it seems a foolish trap that even the intelligent fall into.
Remember the wise words an articulate guest writer shared here two and a half years ago, a friend who decided to make a behavioral change on social media:
“… So without even knowing it, I learned that I didn’t have to attend every argument I was invited to. I stopped posting political pieces. Stopped commenting for the sake of starting up a fight. I weighed in here and there but I chose my words carefully and bracketed it with things like ‘respectfully’ and ‘we don’t all have to agree.’ I became mindful that, for most of my Facebook friends, what I posted was the only definition they would have of me. I don’t speak to many of them face to face. They don’t know how I live my life, that there is more to me than my posts and replies. And I didn’t want that to be their truth about me. I am more than just my political beliefs or my religion or my alma mater (though that one I still have a hard time not defending). I am a sum of all of those things and more…”
Authentic conversation helps us know one another deeply and more. And yes, there is more to each of us than our opinions, “sides,” and alma maters (Boiler up). But when we omit the respectful give-and-take and selfless listening vital to authentic communication, we aren’t getting to know another any more than we already do. We are only hearing ourselves think. That doesn’t seem wise.
So is social media good?
Maybe. Those pickle pics make me laugh.
But my sense is, for most of us, it’s more our behavior that may need to change.