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.2 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.
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?
- 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.
- “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/.
- “Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites” eBizMBA, August 2016, http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites.
- 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.