I grew up in an era that was largely pre-Internet. Oh, computers existed but the concept of a “world wide web” that would connect every part of the globe was still more novelty than reality; and as I grew older the technology that I take for granted today was growing, too.
There was such heady optimism about the concept when it began; a way to share ideas at lightning speed, to create a global village filled with facts and information and knowledge. The naivete is somewhat astonishing now, as we should have realized that every sword has two edges; the world wide web would prove both the most connecting and yet damaging form of communication we have likely ever found.
And perhaps the most troubling and intriguing is social media, a method of communication that has taken our entire world by storm and changed the way we interact with each other.
A few years ago I abandoned Twitter, having seen it morph from something that seemed largely positive and connecting to something mostly negative and disrupting. I had been quite active on the medium, and had found much to enjoy; but there was a darker side that began to disturb me in ways I could not quite define.
This past summer, I abandoned Facebook for a couple of months, deactivating my account to see what would happen and choosing to disconnect from the social media outlet in order to reconnect with my own world – and myself.
It’s hardly a novel idea, and I am hardly a brave pioneer as many others have taken similar “social media breaks”; and others have completely abandoned social media, decrying it as a “time suck” or as an addiction they needed to resolve. For me, it was just a break, not a break up, but when I returned it was with a new sentiment towards social media and my own relationship with it.
The truth of course is that I do like social media; the immediacy of connection, the ability to share thoughts and moments and photos and stories. But the other truth is that far too often social media is used to cause harm or damage, to attempt to destroy rather than build, to hurt rather than heal, and to misinform rather than educate.
But as I realized during my social media hiatus, I could only control two things: my own social media and my relationship with the medium. I could use the tool as I chose to use it, and ultimately, if the targeted ads and negative memes and other nonsense became too much I could, very simply, walk away.
As a professional communicator, I know the tremendous value of social media. As someone with friends and family flung across the planet, I know the joy of being able to see, in real time, their lives unfold. And yet I also know that when the medium controls us instead of us controlling the medium that we have given away our power.
I often wonder what kind of relationship the next generations – ones like my daughter’s – will have with social media. I am bemused that we, the ones responsible for creating this medium, now decry those young adults who use it as narcissists who must chronicle every moment of their existence. How ironic that we gave them the tool and then criticize that they have used it in perhaps the most expected and logical manner! And yet, I see in them far more skepticism about it too, more cynicism and a far less complicated relationship than people like me, who grew up before cell phones and laptops that fit in a purse and tablets and the internet. I suspect it is my generation who may well struggle with this the most, because we are the ones who transitioned from that time before to where we are now.
Giving up social media for a couple of months was perhaps the wisest thing I have done in years. It was weird at first, reaching for my phone and tapping the Facebook icon only to realize I had disconnected. But as the weeks rolled on, it felt more comfortable; and more natural. I didn’t know what was going on everywhere and nor did I need to, and realized perhaps the adage is true: ignorance may well be bliss.
I returned to Facebook this fall. In fact, you will likely find this piece because you will find it on my Facebook page. And you may think how ironic that is, or how hypocritical; and perhaps it is, but the truth – my truth, anyhow – is that our relationship with social media is a strange little dance for which we must each develop our own choreography.
My dance with social media is my own; I choose the tempo and the steps. And if, one day, I find the music not to my liking, I will simply, very simply, stop dancing.