This is something I have been thinking about lately, especially with my now being on the outside of the walls of academia. While in school, Facebook and other social networking sites are powerful and valuable networking tools, now these sites are becoming not only powerful networking tools, but a way to be increasingly aware of people’s lives around us. The amount of information shared on these sites is copious, and our lives feel like we have gained community through these sites.
I can let people know what I am doing, what I think, my political convictions, and what I’m wearing all at the same time, but does this truly connect me to people on the other side of the computer? Increasingly our information is up for grabs, our information shared on websites makes us targets, for marketing firms. With the unprecedented amount of information being stored and shared electronically marketing companies are able to increasingly and more effectively target advertising towards who their wanted demographic is. All this information is out there, but is it truly community or is it a pseudo-community or just a community-like feeling?
Here is what I think, and this and $4.00 will buy you a latte at Starbucks. I am no expert sociologically, nor am I a researcher in the uses, abuses, and value of social media. I think that at points social media has cheapened our human interactions, it has increased our interactions, but there is not a flesh and blood aspect of our connections. We can have relationships without ever getting dirt on our hands, without ever dealing with the muck and mire that comes with personal interaction. We can send kind words and messages of prayer by email or Facebook, or even tweet prayer requests, but we are not truly down in the pit of despair with our “friends.”
Now let me say that social media allows me to maintain relationships with people all over the country. Just today I messaged someone 700 miles away to check on them and a personal situation. This is part of the incredible power of social media, part of what has created an international craze to join Facebook, twitter, foursquare, yelp, or any other site that increase our information output. But we see how technology has changed our interaction, even for giving for charities we no longer receive a letter. Instead we see a banner ad, or a 30-second commercial on TV that has us text message to a number that then charges $10 to our phone bills.
I think we all need to strive to see where the uses and usefulness comes in social media, and understand that social media also allows us to control what we want to hear. I admit that I have de-friended people on Facebook because I became tired of their political views being repeatedly posted on their status. The control we have in our social media is that we don’t have to listen to someone who disagrees with, as well as they do not have to listen to our point of view either.
While social media is an incredible and powerful tool for us to connect to the people around us, it is also, at times, a detriment to our being stretched and challenged by others. It is another way we can make our lives fit into neat little boxes and avoid the difficult parts of living in community with other imperfect humans. So my challenge for this post is to think about how we use and abuse social media. Also how do look past the things we see on social media and actually physically, concretely connect to others around us who are in genuine need of human touch.