I was on my way to write a blog post about the good and bad of social media, but of course I had to check in on Facebook first, and when I did I came across the above video. If you don't feel like taking three and a half minutes to watch it, the concept is that there's this bar where people behave like we do on social media--randomly declaring political beliefs, talking at each other without listening in return, fighting over every little thing, and generally being mean. Basically, social media brings out the worst in humanity.
I can't disagree with any of the criticisms this video makes--and it's far from the first to make them. I mean, you don't have to look any further than the current American president's Twitter account to see how social media can bring out the worst in humanity. But clearly there is still value in social media. If at least some part of you didn't think so, you wouldn't still be here.
Here's what I believe: Future generations will look back at the advent of social media as a turning point in humanity's history that ultimately led to a far greater sense of connectedness across formerly insurmountable boundaries of distance, culture, language, religion, and politics. Social media will be the catalyst that pushes the human race beyond tribalism and toward truly thinking of ourselves as a single global community. Optimistic, you say? Yes, yes it is. (That's kind of my schtick.)
But social media certainly has the potential to be this catalyst. Among my Facebook friends I have coworkers thousands of miles from me in the Philippines, Australia, the UK, and all around the US; PTA and neighborhood friends here in Utah, most of whom are very religious and relatively conservative; mostly liberal friends from my college years spent with fellow humanities and then library science students; and friends who are gay, lesbian, straight, bi, trans, and two spirit. (This is not an exhaustive list; sorry if I left you out.) Just like every other human, I'm likely to interact more with those I have more in common with--whether geography, culture, politics, religion, or a similar sense of humor--but I still see those posts from the friends who are less like me. Sometimes those posts connect with me, regardless of our differences; sometimes I'm just not interested in a post so I keep scrolling; and of course sometimes someone says something political or religious that presses my button in just the wrong way, and sometimes I do better than others at either engaging civilly or shutting up and walking away. But whatever my reaction, I see those posts, and every time I do, my worldview expands just a little bit. I get a glimpse into the daily lives of people who are different from me, and more importantly I get a glimpse into their minds. I will never see President Trump the way his supporters do, but thanks to a few of my Facebook friends I have a pretty good idea of how they perceive him. That, as far as I'm concerned, is a major value that social media adds to my life.
Social media is still relatively new, in terms of the history of human evolution, and we're still figuring out how to navigate this new landscape. We're not used to being so exposed to each other's raw emotions and often-unfiltered thoughts. If the human race had suddenly discovered telepathy, we'd be having the same problem. But telepathy would not only expose us to each other's darkest, meanest, ugliest inner selves; it would also expose us to each other's most loving, most vulnerable, most beautiful inner selves. We would come to see not only our neighbor's anger, but also the reasons for their anger. And we would see their love. Social media can do that too. Social media can help us understand our fellow humans who are different from us in ways that we've never had such easy access to before.
|At least with social media we don't run the risk of possession by an evil alien psychic force.|
Or whatever the whole Dark Phoenix thing was. Sue me, I'm a DC guy.
We just need to learn to treat a name and a profile picture the same as we treat a human being--because, guess what, they are a human being! It wouldn't surprise me if this comes much easier to future generations who grow up in this brave new world than it does to us. But in the meantime, maybe we can all just try extra hard to be a little nicer, and to listen at least as much as we talk? With that in mind, it's now my turn to listen: What do you say, friend? What can we all do to make social media a positive force in humanity's evolution? Or do you believe social media is inherently detrimental? (And if so, why are you here?) Please comment below or on Facebook--I want to hear your thoughts via this fancy telepathic technology Mark Zuckerberg and Al Gore gave us.