Is Social Media Social?

Eight weeks ago I gave up social media for Lent and the experience has led me to some pretty interesting insights. A simple Google search will show that some people think social media is the death knell of true social interaction, while others feel it is the gateway to social evolution. As with most of my life experiences, I would have to say I fall somewhere in the middle.

My first reaction was that I really didn’t miss the hours I normally spent texting, emailing, reading and replying to Facebook posts. I found myself calmer, less agitated, and more relaxed.What did I do with the extra time? I slept a bit more, I read a couple of books, conducted a discussion/prayer group, read a few more magazine articles and newspaper stories, spent time renovating a bathroom, and possibly watched a bit more TV.

When I consider that list, except for the discussion group, I replaced social interaction (albeit electronic) with time alone and introspective pursuits. Considering this began as a means of Lenten discipline, I think I have accomplished some of my goals. However, I must admit, I did not increase my prayer time as much as I had hoped and I didn’t find the time to read all the spiritual books I had intended. That was no surprise because I always think I can accomplish more in less time than is physically possible.

I was ready to give up my social media endeavors, including this blog. After all, I felt less stressed, my internal anger wasn’t stirred by conflicting opinions and rude commentary, my heart wasn’t broken daily by all the visual displays of humanity’s inhumanity. I had filled the time with positive and productive activities. So, why not make my electronic “fast” permanent?

Then my husband and I attended the fiftieth wedding anniversary party for a couple we have known for about forty years. I met with other nearly lifelong friends. I found that, in my seven weeks fasting from social media, one friend, who had driven up from Missouri to attend the event, was very successfully recuperating from a stroke. Another friend was preparing to begin dialysis treatments. Still another was living through the loss of a business and home. We reminisced about the friends who had “died too soon,” and shared the joys and sorrows of our growing families. We talked about journeys we had taken and life-changing experiences. I basically spent the night catching up on a lot of important personal information I would have already known had I been doing my usual electronic correspondence.

Yes, social media is a poor replacement for a big person-to-person anniversary celebration, phone call, coffee klatsch, girls’ night out or home visit. We share information in private that we might not, or should not, on social media. Still, the last five times I have set up a face-to-face gathering between more than two people, it has taken many texts, emails, and personal messages to come up with a common available time slot.

The reality of the twenty-first century is that relationships exist across distance and disparate life obligations. We no longer function within tight close-knit familial and ethnic enclaves. Not every family member or friend has evenings and Sunday afternoons free for “entertaining” or socializing. Our society is more mobile and families don’t stay glued to their homes for 12 hours a day or within the same 20 mile radius for fifty years. Our phone lines are no longer private roads of contact with distant relatives. Don’t get me wrong, phones are still a tremendous means of communication. However, ninety percent of my phone calls come from solicitors and salespeople…and I am on the so-called “do not call list.” I am very grateful for caller I.D.

Okay, social media is not perfect. It gives people perceived anonymity and opens the door to soapbox rants, unkind and rude commentary, “alternative facts”, crude jokes and memes and other unsavory elements. It also offers a doorway to prayer requests, global support networks, positive sharing, and interesting (and affordable) daily news from family and friends across the country and around the globe. For example, our daughter will soon be studying in India and our only reasonable means of contact will be via the internet. As with any personal interaction, it is not the hardware or software involved, but the flesh that operates and manipulates those technologies which makes for positive or negative experience.

So today, I return to social media and have decided to continue this blog. My Lenten journey has reminded me that I am not perfect, no person is perfect, so why should I expect more from social media–the interaction of imperfect people? Still, at its best, it is a 24/7 means for reaching out across the miles with news of family and friends, words of inspiration, prayer support, civil discussion and positive encouragement. After all, isn’t that what it really means to be social?