July 3, 2018

The Social Media Frenzy

I am writing this post from our little mountain home surrounded by trees and near-silence. There is nothing like the peace of this place and the mental clarity after a few good sleeps in a row to provide perspective and encourage me to write something. We do have WiFi and Satellite up here so fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you see it, we are connected to the outside world, although I tend to use this physical distance as a reason to keep my connectivity to a minimum. Cell service is not yet available here, so that is one form of communication banned to me in any case. I find these mini retreats in the mountains to be excellent for my mental health. I tend to become a little bogged down when I spend too much time online getting bombarded by all the headlines, and the wildly varying opinions (withering scorn is definitely in fashion) on those headlines. I tend not to sleep all that well during my work week, which makes me more vulnerable and emotional and ill-equipped to manage the bombardment and put it in its proper place. While I am all for technology and the improvements it has made to my life I am also well aware of the need to take regular breaks from Social Media.

As a person who grew up without Social Media I often think about how it affects my life and the lives of those around me. Like millions of others I participate almost daily in the digital communities of Facebook and Instagram. I enjoy viewing photos and videos from friends and family members and living vicariously through their travel photos and postings. I add occasional quips and comments on various media sites, and generally enjoy the entertainment value my little online world supplies. I opened a Twitter account for a short time but gained very little from time spent there. I found Twitter a somewhat cold and calculated form of interaction. I decided to leave it to the journalists, politicians and film stars. Social Media is how I keep track of the activities of my widespread large extended family, keep abreast of events in my community, and communicate with many loved ones and acquaintances. I post often but try not to engage in anything overly negative or emotionally draining. At one time I did venture down those uncertain paths and nearly always ended up more upset and with nothing to show for my time and effort. I know many people use Social Media to promote causes, and that is wonderful (mostly). I have donated to some worthy campaigns because I read about them on Social Media, but I am rarely politically influenced by what I read online. Before I support or oppose a cause I listen to the radio, read a newspaper or watch the news to see what is really happening out there in the world from a trained journalistic standpoint. Sometimes Social Media only gives us the sound bites, and I need a bit more than click bait to be truly informed about local and global situations. Call me old fashioned.

I remember telling my kids they could only join Facebook if I was included in their Facebook circle. I was unsure of the impact Social Media would have on them and wanted to be part of their online lives. Turns out they were generally smarter than I was at managing online. While I, new to Social Media, put far too much stock into what was promoted there, my children took it all with a grain of salt, unfriending people willy-nilly if they were fed up with their posts. My kids share occasional photos and music but mostly they just tag each other in memes and silly bird videos. The online world was a language they grew up with and they seemed to know how to manage it instinctively. I do not think all kids do, however. I limited screen time for my kids from an early age and they developed plenty of other interests. We also enjoyed a lot of family time. We suffered some bumps along the road - we were all learning how to navigate this strange new world - but overall they learned how to use this new power for good. I think it is the kids who grow up with a screen as babysitter who might have the most difficulty. For various reasons, their parents are not monitoring their activity online and it takes an aware and wise child to, alone and without any guidance, field all the dangers and temptations presented to them.

One thing which also worries me about Social Media is how addicted we are to it as a way to present ourselves and put ourselves out there. While I was at work the other day I had a thought. If actions speak louder than words, how effectively does our presence on Social Media show our true selves? When we communicate with others online we can orchestrate everything. We can choose only the best photographic versions of ourselves to share. We can begin typing something and then erase it before it is sent. We don't have to be vulnerable in front of an actual person and learn from our mistakes. Is this bringing up an entire generation of people afraid to make eye contact and relate human to human? Or more than afraid, unable? I know I am less socially inclined than I used to be, and I wonder how much this has been the result of engaging almost daily on Social Media.

Engaging in Social Media can be isolating, too. I know when a certain feeling comes over me it is time to put the phone down, get up and do something productive. I admit to learning the hard way. I am not very good at multi-tasking. When I am online and my kid asks me something it often takes her yelling Mom! at me to get me to break my focus. I like my own company but I know when I need to be with a real person, to sense the nuances in our conversations, to feel their energy, their warmth and their interest. The digital community can make me think, make me laugh and cry, but it can never supply me with human interaction and love, two things I need. Don't we all? We have to remind each other to limit our digital communication and expand our person-to-person interaction. We have to look into each others eyes when we talk, and nag our kids to do it, too. We are using our phones and computers as guards against vulnerability, and perhaps even accountability. Social Media is a powerful tool, and awareness of its power is the first step toward managing it properly, so it doesn't, in turn, end up managing us.

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