Social media and smartphones are a vital part of 21st century life. Even I, a veteran device scoffer, have a Facebook page, a smartphone and an iPad. (I draw the line with Twitter!) So, I’m part of the internet revolution, like it or not. My social media life is limited to family and close friends, despite friend requests from colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors and people I hardly know at all. My main social media interest: pictures of my grandchildren.
But, the other day I encountered something new. An old family friend posted a video of herself sharing a personal story. I was moved by her several-minute monologue. I commented on her post and shared how proud I was of the woman that she had grown into. I thought it was pretty cool.
But as I reflected, I realized that she shared her story with more than 1,000 Facebook friends. Five “friends” commented, 31 “liked” it, and who knows how many people viewed it (I’m sure Facebook knows). While I felt more connected with her, I could have called her, but didn’t. It was easier for me to simply type a message into the “comment” bar. Thirty-one of her buddies “liked” it, but what does that really mean?
Social media allows us to share pictures, stories, videos and articles with our entire community instantly. It enables viewers to quickly respond by the press of a button or by keyboarding a few words. For a moment, I did feel more connected to my friend — but it stopped there. Was this a real connection or did this actually inhibit real contact?
Texting is another form of quasi-communication. I’m a minor texter, mostly limited to receiving photos from family. But I do observe major texters, who text while walking, talking, eating, working and who knows what else (trust me, I don’t want to know what else!) They are receiving and sending hundreds of texts all day long — but is this real contact? Or does it actually discourage getting together for coffee?
Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, 21st century life is crazy busy — more time behind the wheel, more hours working, more chauffeuring kids to more activities, more parental help for children’s homework, and despite time-saving devices, more time maintaining our homes. So, a “how’s it going?” text makes it easy to say hello in the middle of doing five other things. A video of your kid playing the piano, posted on Facebook, goes out to scores of friends and family. It’s an easy form of sharing.
But then there is the other side. Social media can be a time suck. Friends repost articles, jokes, and everything else that don’t add much value to your life. Are you really interested in what Mary had for dinner? Is perusing your social media account when you’re bored really that appealing?
Texting can interfere with being present in the moment — the bell that signals the arrival of a message can seem like a demand to respond instantly. Instead of salivating like Pavlov’s dogs when we hear the bell, we stop whatever we’re doing to text back. And what if you don’t want to respond at all? Will your friend feel rejected or insulted? Have we created another relentless demand in our busy lives?
Only time will tell. It will take us a decade to decide whether this revolution was a cultural mistake or actually improved the quality of our lives. But ask yourself this question: Are you feeling more connected with your loved ones, or are you feeling lonelier as a result of social media and smartphones?
Until we can look back at this period in our history with 20-20 hindsight, moderation may be our best approach. And, make sure to have coffee with that friend you haven’t seen for a long time. You won’t regret it.