Social media: Tearing us apart or bringing us together?

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Social media: connecting us no matter where in the world we’re from. Image courtesy of Clarita, Morguefile.

There’s been a lot written lately about the topic of social media destroying human relationships. With some of us, we’re barely off social media at all: constantly taking selfies with Instagram, checking Facebook for updates or telling the world what we’re doing via Twitter or Foursquare. This can get annoying, especially when you’re attempting to have a meaningful conversation with somebody.

So I can see how some people feel that social media messes up our ability to have relationships and connect with each other. In some cases, social media had a direct impact on somebody’s relationship. A Wall Street Journal article notes that 80% of U.S. divorce attorneys say they’ve seen a rise in the number of cases using social networking. Ouch. Some couples are fighting over Twitter, too. Double ouch.

I would argue for the other side, though. In some ways, social media brings us together. Look at all of us on WordPress, for example. We’ve developed virtual friendships with each other through visiting each other’s blogs, leaving witty or insightful comments, offering sympathy to those bloggers who recount life’s more horrendous experiences and providing constructive support to the people going through tough times in their lives. Thousands of these conversations go on, every day.

It’s even gone further than that. Some bloggers choose to personally meet each other in a face-to-face meeting. From what I’ve read of the experience of other bloggers, it turns out well because both bloggers feel like they’ve gotten to know each other before they ever meet.

LinkedIn’s another interesting example. I’ve gotten to know some fascinating people doing fascinating work within my LinkedIn discussion groups. Yesterday, I had a long phone conversation with a new connection from another city. If it wasn’t for LinkedIn, we would have never met and gotten to know each other.

It’s happening on Twitter too. My Irish blogger buddy Liam O’Dell of The Life of A Thinker introduced me to British blogger Chelsea Lou Haden of Loving Life In Wellies via Twitter, and it’s been fun ever since.

But social media does the best at bringing us together when it’s something we can all relate to. It might be a funny video on YouTube, a once-in-a-lifetime photo preserved on Flickr or a life-changing WordPress post, but if it touches the universal human experience, it reaches everybody.

And isn’t that the whole point of social media? Enabling us to share experiences with each other and build relationships? What are your thoughts, blog readers?

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Social media: Tearing us apart or bringing us together?

  1. I see very little conversation that asks for input and feedback apart from the number of “likes” and comments. It might help if we told each other what we find valuable and what is simply a nuisance. I quit Twitter, Goodreads, and LinkedIn for their low return on investment. I rely on Facebook a lot, and I have my blog, my exercise in vanity. Thanks for the good overview of the subject.

    • You’re welcome, Daniel!

      As someone who works in the advertising field, I have to add my input. There’s a big emphasis on creating “shareable content” that provides value to the reader in some way but some of us disagree about what constitutes shareable content and if it really contributes to revenue. So I think you make an excellent point about telling each other what we find valuable. Focus group, anyone?

  2. I’ll give you a lovely example. My partner Neil has a mother who is in her 80s, she lives on her own and doesn’t get out much. Neil visits her every weekend but during the week I think she gets a bit lonely because she’s always been very sociable. She had never used computers but a couple of years ago she was given a Kindle, and from there she progressed to an ipad, and a few months ago she joined Facebook, and I can’t tell you how wonderful this has been for her. She can now connect with all of us, friends and family, her grandchildren, see what everyone’s up to and interact with them on a daily basis. She’s totally got the hang of it, she’s always on there, she’s very witty and articulate which I had never realised before because she’s hard of hearing, so in real life she often isn’t able to join in much with conversations, but on Facebook, she’s right there with no disadvantages to hold her back. I think Kindle has done a great job of leading the non-tech savvy people into the world of technology and social media!

  3. Is social media participation sort of like eating candy…yummy and delicious, but you need to be careful to not binge and know when to stop – or you pack on the useless unpleasant fat until you no longer are who you are?
    Will be intriguing to see where it all takes us – and to look back and examine all the impact and changes.

  4. Nice article. I think social media is a double-edged sword. It can be used for good or for harm. The good of meeting other people through shared interests that we would otherwise not know of at all is so enjoyable. It is a blessing to get to know other people through their writing, photography, and other work via WordPress and to get reacquainted with folks via Facebook. I am still learning my way around other forms of social media. Taking that next step to meet someone in person or correspond more personally is great – and that is where the richness comes in – building a more personal relationship. The bad thing is the way people can hide behind the computer if they choose to and say things they would most likely not say if they had the accountability of voice-to-voice or face-to-face contact. Really enjoy your posts by the way!

  5. I don’t use Facebook much. I don’t use Twitter at all, don’t have any interest in Linked In or Pinterest and only turn on my mobile phone when I am making a call. I find it offensive when people can’t leave these things alone when in public. At least turn them off when you are having lunch.
    I do like the social side of blogging and have met lots of people through my blog.

  6. Social media is the bane of teens as it warps their ability to truly communicate with one another. As a high school teacher, I see groups of kids huddled over their e-devices and nudge each other: “look.” This isn’t conversation — it’s a massive show and tell session. I won’t go into the mean texts that lead into heartache and worse. Maybe there should be a permit and training issued like we do for driving before we hand out these e-devices. They are almost as dangerous when used by those to understand the potential danger.

    • Also a good point, CM. What concerns me most is that some of today’s students don’t appear to realize that their posts on Twitter, Facebook or other sites can always be seen if someone’s researching hard enough. It can affect someone’s future when they’re looking for a job or when they want to get into college.

      As for using social media sites to harass or bully others, that is a direct violation of those sites’ policies. Anyone who does that can lose their accounts when someone else reports it.

      Maybe some training is in order — for both the proper use of social media and for how to communicate/network in the real world. I’m thinking your students will need all of these skills soon enough.

  7. Social media can be a major time suck, that’s for sure. but I have developed a number of great connections and made a few pals because of it. I regularly interact (in person!) with three bloggers I never would’ve met otherwise and have broken bread with several others.

    Moreover, the blogging community of writers is infinitely supportive, helpful and (as you say) witty. As long as one can break away when needed, social media can be (and for me, is) infinitely valuable.

  8. Perhaps meeting people in person after a long Internet Relationship is not that different from the letter writing of yesterday. I had several lovely pen pals when I was a kid. I met many of them face to face. They were often like me, living in semi-rural parts of the US. In my teen years, I went on to correspond with several fellows in the military away from home. Today, my cousin Karl, just returned from Afghanistan follows my blog as do other cousins all over the world. And, I’ve met many bloggers I first knew online. Sometimes they come to DC. Sometimes I meet them when I travel. Wonderful experiences.

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