The pros and cons of social media, and why I use it as much as I do

A friend of mine recently took a few weeks off from social media, and she benefited greatly from it. She said she felt happier and more at peace afterwards, and has no desire to use it regularly in the future. The timing of this was interesting, since I also recently spent a few days off of social media, though my “detox” was involuntary. I had to move into an apartment with my brother until my new one is ready, and he didn’t have internet in it yet. This, combined with my friend’s experience, got me thinking about why I use social media as much as I do. I’ve already given it a lot of thought, actually, because it’s hard not to think about doing something you’d prefer not to do, but have no real choice but to do. I’ll explain what I mean by that later.

I’ve never tried to explain why I use social media as much as I do to anyone before because I know they wouldn’t understand. I realized years ago that only someone who’s gone through something similar to what I’ve gone through can even begin to understand my thoughts on my disease, and my use of social media, among other things. Also, it’s not fair for me to expect others to understand something so complicated even I don’t understand it at times.

I would sum up my situation this way: Social media is my primary medium for interacting with the world, with all the good and bad things that come with it. The funny thing is, even though it seems like I’ve been on Twitter forever, I’ve only been active on it for about a year or so. The only reason I started tweeting was because my disease had progressed to the point where I didn’t have the attention span to write or read long facebook posts anymore, which I used to do frequently.

One reason why I stayed on Twitter is because I needed an outlet for my thoughts. Even though it can get annoying or ugly at times, the alternative for me was worse. When you’re in constant pain and suffering, it’s not healthy to be alone with your thoughts for extended periods of time, which I was before I was on Twitter. Your thoughts turn dark and depressing, and you have virtually no control over them, no matter how much you wish you did. I needed a distraction, and Twitter gives it to me. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I stumbled onto it when I needed that distraction most in my life.

But I also realized that if I was gonna use it long-term, I couldn’t allow myself to be consumed by it, as some people are, and to avoid the bad aspects of it as much as possible. I developed some rules for using it that have helped me maximize the good and minimize the bad. Furthermore, as my disease progressed, it transformed me. I became confident in who I am, and learned who and what I am not. I developed an eternal perspective, and that, combined with my daily struggle to overcome my pain and stress, made people’s negative comments online seem trivial by comparison. Having an existential crisis really gives one a sense of scale, and puts things in perspective.

Admittedly, I started out using Twitter for selfish reasons, which I’m guessing is the case for the vast majority of people. But I began to believe that God was calling me to use it to help others. After all, if anything is possible with God, why should we limit Him to the real world? Why can’t He use the online world to do His will as well?

If I had no choice but to be on social media more than the average person, and if it’s true that God wants us to serve others in any way we can, is it too much of a stretch to think that God wants me to use social media for that purpose? I think not.

Also, after meeting some amazing people there, both believers and non-believers alike, I began to believe that God was using Twitter to help me meet the kind of people I wasn’t able to meet in real life because of my disability. The truth is, I have a unique set of health problems that are a result of the negative consequences of modern day living (I’ve written about these in detail elsewhere). Thus, it makes sense to me that God would introduce me to a modern day creation that I could use as a means to deal with those problems, or at least distract myself from them until He decided to heal me. It was a perfect fit.

I think a quote that sums up my social media use the best is from Aragorn in the LOTR: “I give hope to others, I keep none for myself”. It’s not a perfect quote, since I do still have hope, but I think it describes how I often feel about my use of social media. I try to inspire and encourage others, giving witness to Jesus’ love and truth, and spreading it as much as I can with my very limited abilities. I expect nothing in return, because I know as a Christian I shouldn’t, but also because I believe that 99% of people on this planet will never be able to fathom the suffering I go through on a daily basis. That’s part of my cross.

I don’t know if I”ll ever be healed, and I often have doubts about that. But I’ll never allow that to prevent me from being optimistic and hopeful with and for others. No matter what happens to me, my goal will always be to help them be the best person they can be, and to become closer to God.

That doesn’t mean I think everyone should use social media as much as I do. Quite the contrary. I think people should limit their use of it as much as possible. At best, it should supplement real life, and real life relationships, not replace those things.

Real life offers a depth of meaning and purpose that Twitter never will. In real life, we learn, build relationships, and grow as people. These are all things that take time and effort, which Twitter doesn’t require. People are complex. Twitter distills them down into 140 characters of their thoughts and feelings. It can’t capture who they really are at their core, or their essence.

Furthermore, Twitter tends to overstimulate the brain, because it bombards us with a constant flow of information and words from many different people and sources. Our brains weren’t designed to handle a constant stream of stimuli like that. That’s why I recommend people take breaks from it, and limit their use of it. It prevents us from focusing on on person at a time, which we need to do to form and maintain meaningful relationships, and to have deep and meaningful interactions and conversations.

We simply can’t learn things from Twitter the way we can learn things from books. The former focuses on many things briefly, whereas the latter focuses on one thing deeply. The brevity of Twitter prevents us from expressing ourselves fully, and tends to bring the worst out in people, because good things typically take more time and words to talk and write about. It also prevents us from doing self-reflection and focusing on God through prayer, study of Scripture, and discussing matters of faith and morality with fellow believers.The more time you spend on Twitter, the less time you have available to do those things, which are infinitely more important.

Everyone’s different, so if you’re reading this, you should apply these thoughts to your unique situation, beliefs, needs, and personality. I should note that Twitter has many good aspects to it as well, such as:

  • It allows introverts to become more confident, since they can avoid the awkward personal situations that prevent them from making friends and having meaningful conversations in real life.
  • Though anonymity enables bad people to harass others, it can also allow good people to be themselves without fear of judgment.
  • Twitter exposes us to new information and ideas that we might not come across in real life.
  • It helps us improve our social skills by interacting with people who have more developed ones, and have more experience using them in the real world.
  • Engaging with people on Twitter who don’t think as we do or believe the same things we do helps us clarify our thoughts and beliefs, as long as we avoid the trolls.
  • It enable us to meet amazing people, and interacting with some of the most talented, skilled, and knowledgeable people in the country. We can ask them questions and pick their brains. This is something the average person rarely, if ever gets a chance to do in real life.

So as you can see, there are plenty of pros to balance out the cons of Twitter, as long as one uses it in moderation, and applies the rules I referenced earlier.

We were created for eternity, and this world isn’t our true home. Twitter is a creation of this world. If we’re not careful, we can lose ourselves in it, and allow it to distract us from the things that matter most. Use it to do good, without allowing it to take away from your peace of mind, or your priorities.