Why I Use Social Media As I Do
In my inaugural Medium story, I want to make a case for why I use social media as I do. I know that I use social media like Facebook differently than a lot of folks and I know that many people have mixed feelings about it. I am also keenly aware that one’s social media presence can easily be misunderstood, taken out of context, or become a liability in other ways and that I ought to be really cautious about the way I use social media at this stage of my career. However, there are a few reasons I use social media the way I do and will try and continue to do so (I may expand on these points in future writing):
Social media is how people communicate and it’s going to stay that way
Social media and computer-mediated communication (CMC), in general, are increasingly common ways for people to interact with each other (duh) and they are only going to become more common as technology advances and more and more people grow up with technology. Plenty of people advise avoiding social media and to avoid discussing sensitive things on social media because it’s the wrong place to do it, but I don’t think avoiding social media is a realistic option in a social world that increasingly relies on it to communicate, nor do I think we can always afford to wait to have tough discussions until we’ve found the “right” place to do so. The Internet and social media represent a social environment that we can’t help but participate in these days.
We can and we ought to get better at communicating on social media and that’s only possible through practice.
I would guess that for as long as humans have been talking, they’ve been telling each other how to effectively communicate and interact in person. It’s not controversial to say that good interpersonal skills are an incredibly valuable asset in society. This has not stopped being true in the age of social media. And I believe there are a lot of relatively simple things (and some tough things) we can and should do to make interaction on social media more productive and enjoyable.
It seems to me that people are often too quick to throw up their hands and give up on social media because they haven’t quite figured out the best way to use it to interact with others and/or because others use it poorly. I readily acknowledge that internet trolls and the like pose an important challenge to effective communication on social media but I maintain that the most productive course of action is to improve the technology and the ways we use it rather than to avoid using it or to use it only in very limited ways.
Social media offers access to people and ideas we are unlikely to encounter elsewhere.
While people usually don’t use social media in a way that takes advantage of this access to a vast diversity of people and ideas, the potential is still there and I think there are plenty of things left to try to get people more aware of and knowledgeable about the other people and ideas populating this planet. We’ll still need to work at making such exposure to other people and ideas positive and productive but we shouldn’t understate or dismiss the value of social media’s potential in this domain. Learning about other people and ideas can be a source of positive change and social media is unique in its ability to facilitate such learning.
Social media grants us unique control over our communications that can help us be better communicators.
People are quick to mention the unique things about social media that are bad: anonymity, lack of empathy for others, lack of consequences for bad behavior, etc. I don’t dispute that those things are real and often unpleasant aspects of many forms of social media. But I think there is positive potential in those unique factors as well. I’m not saying social media is necessarily better than other forms of communication, only that it has some unique characteristics that may be uniquely beneficial. And I think it’s possible to create and use social media environments in ways that foster more productive communication.
For example, the relatively asynchronous nature of a lot of social media communication allows us (if we choose to take advantage of the feature) to think more carefully about what we say and how we say it and to remove ourselves from unpleasant or emotionally distressing conversations in more discreet ways. If we put more time into our communication, I think we can avoid misunderstandings and have more productive conversations.
In sum, I use social media the way I do because I want to meet people where they are and learn to be a better communicator.
I’m not saying that social media is currently the best way to communicate. There are many flaws in both the technology and the people who use it. But it’s everywhere and it’s still developing and becoming more ubiquitous. We’re going to keep updating the technology and adapting our communication behaviors and we’ll keep getting better and better at using computers and social media to communicate effectively. But in the meantime, I think social media in its current form still has a lot of untapped potential. Just because people use it a certain way right now doesn’t mean it can’t be used better. I think there’s a lot to gain from figuring out how to use social media in different ways.
I hope everyone who reads this and other writing to come will feel comfortable interacting with me and my writing on Medium, Facebook, and wherever else we happen to meet online. :)