More on Social Media
This is from an article I wrote for the UNO Gateway student newspaper (published 02-01-12), posted here for your viewing pleasure! The article in the newspaper was titled “A realistic approach to social media, please!”
Many classes embrace social media as the new norm. To be taken seriously, a company must have both a physical presence and an online presence. Any business nowadays knows this. No start-up would think of opening its doors without a website or at least a Facebook page to accompany it. Social media has become integrated as a large part of our culture; it is an extension of our selves, a means of building and maintaining relationships, both professional and personal.
Sure, most teachers don’t allow texting, Facebooking, or Tweeting during class (although there are exceptions), but it’s been recognized that social media contributes to the learning environment in new, exciting and unique ways.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across a textbook with an introduction that not only advocated the rejection of social media, but actually encouraged readers to phase out their online presence via Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, etc. In fact, heralded it as a “ray of hope” that some would do so. This got me thinking…
We all know someone who *gasp* doesn’t have a Facebook. Usually it’s our great grandparents or our great aunt twice removed. We expect some people to be resistant to change. For some, new technology is just a hassle. Our parents and grandparents have lived for decades with only the telephone as the quickest means of communication. Obviously the world didn’t stop turning then, so what’s the big deal? Is it just a passing fad? The aforementioned textbook goes on to say that we, as a society, have reached a “saturation point” with social media. We simply won’t tolerate it any more. Everyone’s had his or her fun with it. It has outlived its usefulness, on to the next. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, we all get tired of hearing about how well your best friend’s crops are growing in Farmville, or who got 250 million points at Bejeweled, or who was able to use the word “zygote” in WordsWithFriends. But just because millions of us waste our time on trivial mind-numbing games doesn’t mean the idea has gone the way of the Furby. Far from it. What we are seeing is not a saturation point but rather a turning point. Social media has been pushed to its fullest capacity as far as entertainment value is concerned. We have reached the point where social media has been transformed into something entirely different from its original conception. It is now a powerful tool to be utilized and molded to suit our needs as sentient beings in the information age. We are just starting to make this turn- we have not yet fully passed the turning point of putting social media to productive use. We are still so flooded with messages from Farmville and beyond that it is hard to keep focused on the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that social media is a useful tool in building healthy relationships, both professional and personal. If you feel like all of your friends on Facebook are superficial acquaintances, it’s probably because they are. Many of us haven’t been taught how to effectively promote social relationships or interact on a personal level at all, which makes it impossible to utilize social media effectively. Being neighbors in MagicLand or CityVille does not make you neighbors in real life. Giving your neighbor in ZooWorld a new panda for their zoo does not give you grounds to be offended that you were not invited to your ZooWorld friend’s real-life bachelor party.
Having a Facebook page does not mean you have become an excellent communicator. An excellent communicator is able to use a Facebook page to effectively maintain solid, lasting relationships with other people. That’s what Facebook is about. Effective communicators understand that our online personas are an extension of our actual personas. Effective communicators understand how to build relationships and how to enhance relationships, both in person and online. The two are not mutually exclusive. They work together in a way that allows us to maintain a relationship regardless of distance, and that is the beauty of social networking. It is the responsibility of the individual, family, and community to promote healthy, respectful, and ethical social skills. We are social creatures, and social media allows us to create, define, and enhance those relationships we care about.
To avoid the problem of impending social media ‘saturation,’ these lessons need to be understood at an early age, and these values emphasized in our culture. We need to fight back against the jaded view that all users of social media are simply wasting time and that this is a passing annoyance that will fade in time. This attitude only serves to further our lack of social competence and leaves no room for the possibilities that social media presents.