Reflections on Social Media: Is Digital Networking a Good Phenomenon? Part 1

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In July 2016, the Facebook Messenger app marked the amazing milestone of having 1 billion daily active users.1 And Twitter now claims 313 million monthly active users.There are also numerous other social networking sites that are extremely popular, including YouTube, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram, etc.3 Since social media doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, I have decided to write a couple articles on the topic and offer some philosophical reflections on this amazing technology known as social networking.

Asking Questions 

Social media is enormously popular, yet I wonder how many users have stopped to ask, Is social media a good thing? If you haven’t asked that question then allow me to frame the topic by asking a couple of interrelated questions:

Is social media merely a neutral technology? Or does it impact the human condition? And, if so, how? And are those possible effects good, bad, or both? If social media does affect individual users, what are the effects to society as a whole?

Another important issue to define is what I mean by good. As a philosopher I would ask: Does social media promote human flourishing? In other words, does the phenomenon of digital networking benefit human beings in terms of such critical qualities or spheres of human life as the intellectual, the moral, the aesthetic, and the spiritual?4 These are indeed big questions and the answer as to whether social media is good for people may take a long time to officially assess. However, with its popularity, I think people, and especially Christian thinkers, should begin asking questions about the phenomenon. It seems it is often tempting for people to embrace new technologies before we have sufficient time to think through what is actually being offered.

Some Preliminary Answers

I think it is self-evident that no human-used technology is purely neutral with regard to its users. All technologies that directly involve human beings are therefore shaped by human use and, in turn, the technology to some degree influences human beings. A provocative way to put it in terms of the topic we are addressing is: Do you use social media or does it use you? In a sense I think the answer is clearly both. It seems social media impacts the individual person and in turn affects society as a whole.

My initial answer as to whether social media is a good thing is to say it is a mixed bag. It contains good and bad features. It presents advantages and disadvantages. It can help and it can hurt—not unlike other technologies, such as television and cell phones. One key takeaway is that we ought not let our Facebook and Twitter notifications get in the way of asking the deeper questions about social media and life itself.

In part two of this series, I will summarize what I see as some of the specific positive and negative features of social media. So stay tuned for more.

Reflections: Your Turn
Is social media a good thing? Do you use social media or does it use you?

Endnotes

  1. Kurt Wagner, “Facebook Messenger Now Has One Billion Active Users,” Recode, July 20, 2016, http://www.recode.net/2016/7/20/12232130/facebook-messenger-one-billion-users.
  2. “Number of Monthly Active Twitter Users Worldwide from 1st Quarter 2010 to 2nd Quarter 2016 (in Millions),” Statista, Statistics Portal, July 2016, http://www.statista.com/statistics/282087/number-of-monthly-active-twitter-users/.
  3. “Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites” eBizMBA, August 2016, http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites.
  4. To think through the philosophical implications of these four spheres of human life and awareness, see my article, “Spheres of Awareness: 4 Unique Ways Humans Perceive Reality,” Reflections (blog), Reasons to Believe, May 24, 2016, http://www.reasons.org/blogs/reflections/spheres-of-awareness-4-unique-ways-humans-perceive-reality.

  One thought on “Reflections on Social Media: Is Digital Networking a Good Phenomenon? Part 1

  1. Ron Lankford
    September 20, 2016 at 6:08 am

    To me, social media is neutral technology until it is applied by a person. Then it changes state. Perhaps all technology is this way, although this argument applied to a smart bomb might be a bit tortuous. An influenza virus, on the other hand is not neutral, but it is not technology and is not applied by a person as such. It is either encountered or avoided. So I suppose that technology has to be knowingly applied as opposed to encountered to be assessed. This is going to be a *very* interesting series. Thank you!

    • September 20, 2016 at 9:50 am

      Thank you for your comments, Ron.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  2. September 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    God created all the elements that make social media possible. Like everything else He created, we have freedom in how we use it and enjoy it. Does our use of social media glorify our Creator and Savior, or ourselves?
    So like everything else, the enemy will continually try to divert us away from a wise and righteous use, and into a use for pride and idolatry.

    • September 20, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks for your comments, MFD.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  3. Johnny
    September 26, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    I remember while as a small pre-schooler in the late 1940s sitting at my great-grandmother’s feet I would often here her say that this new-fangled television must be “of the devil” – she would not have one in her house. A few years later she bought one and enjoyed some of the programs – she learned that it wasn’t the “machine” that was good or evil but the people using the technology – and she had the human ability to choose how it would be used in her life. Grandmother was the “social” part and the “new-fangled” machine was the “media” part. It was her choices that made the difference, not the that box of parts.

    • September 27, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Hello, Johnny.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Managing the technologies may be the ticket but that is sometimes tricky. TV has deeply shaped peoples lives for both good and not so good. Having a TV in the 1940s must have meant that your family was fairly affluent. TVs were rare and expensive then.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

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