Reflections on Social Media: Is Digital Networking a Good Phenomenon? Part 2

Teenagers addiction to smart phones and social media

It seems a safe assumption that all new technologies—from cell phones to social media—present its users with both positive and negative possibilities. The challenge resides in learning how to manage the technology so one maximizes the positives and minimizes the negatives. How can we do this for the emerging and enormously popular phenomenon known as social media?

In this second article (see the first one here), I’m going to offer some opinions, particularly as a philosopher, as to what I think are both the positive aspects and the potentially negative aspects of social media. I use the softer word opinions instead of arguments to be intentionally tentative, as these are my initial thoughts in assessing the phenomenon of digital networking—which is a large, complex, and still growing technology, so it seems prudent to be deliberate.

Positive Features of Social Media

There are a number of things that I see as being very positive about social media. Let me mention two. First, digital networking, for example Facebook, allows the unique opportunity for people to meet and stay in touch with many individuals at the same time all over the globe. This allows family and friends to stay connected almost immediately regardless of locale and virtually without expense. Moreover, this technology allows people to build a virtual (online) community in which people share ideas, information, and interests. I’ve personally enjoyed participating in a largely (but not exclusively) Christian online community where the participants interact on issues relating to theology, philosophy, science, and apologetics.

Second, social media, for example Twitter, allows people to speak out and share information and thus participate in the virtual marketplace of ideas. Digital networking even allows people to speak about news events and happenings as they are transpiring, rather than responding only when they are over. Many Christians use social media to promote education, evangelism, and apologetics. Christians are therefore using this new cyber medium to advance the presentation and defense of the gospel.

Thus the two opportunities to build a virtual connected community and to speak out in the cyber world on important issues are clear positives of social media.

Negative Features of Social Media

I have a number of concerns about social media, but let me mention only two in this article. First, I’m concerned that social media adds a cyber layer onto reality that is artificial and detracts from genuine human authenticity. For example, having a lot of Facebook friends is not the same as having some deep interpersonal relationships with people whom you love and in turn love you. I’m not saying online friends cannot offer real friendship, but my concern is that the relationships are far less personal. Moreover, a virtual community is not an adequate replacement for an actual community of family and friends. For Christians, that community is ideally found in a church. Though to be realistic, nowadays many people are happy to be part of any community they can connect with.

Second, I’m concerned the shared public identity that social media provides can tend to distract people from developing their own true personal identity. We often act differently in a crowd than we do when we are alone with our thoughts. I think social media can tend to interfere with our needed inner conversation with the self. We should prefer to develop the inner self rather than to post a selfie! The problem is that social media can be clutter that crowds out essential time needed for personal contemplation.

Sorting through the Positives and Negatives of Social Media

To return to what I said earlier, social media appears to be one more technology that needs to be carefully managed. Go ahead and utilize it and enjoy the positives—but be on guard against the negatives.

Here are some suggestions for safely navigating social media and safeguarding your cyber identity:

1. Consider a Sabbath unplugging. That’s right, one day a week you unplug all electronic devices. Go the whole way without using screens of any kind for 24 hours.

2. Be alone with your thoughts. Schedule a regular time to be alone and get in touch with your real, private personal identity.

3. Spend some face-to-face time with a friend. Invite a friend over to your house or go out for lunch together so you can interact IRL (“in real life”). Practice some old-fashioned human conversation—talk.

In closing, I think social media is a mixed bag. So manage your participation and seek to live a reflective and good life.

Reflections: Your Turn
Can you go cold turkey and unplug for an entire day? How does your identity change when you are on social media?

  One thought on “Reflections on Social Media: Is Digital Networking a Good Phenomenon? Part 2

  1. davejakes
    September 27, 2016 at 9:17 am

    As a sports fan, going screen-free for even a day would be problematic, especially now that I choose to avoid crowds and live events.

    With my phone, I have basically become a cyborg. It is now part of my brain, helping me remember things and learn new things. It is also a safety device.

    With social media interactions, I have tended to be discourteous at times, especially toward rude strangers. I’m working on that.

    • September 27, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Hello, Dave.

      I appreciate your candor. There are indeed many conveniences from social technologies. My challenge is that screens interfere with my needed time of contemplation.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  2. Les Thiel
    October 4, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Ken,

    I think this is a great conversation in which we need to engage. It’s an arena that almost evolves more rapidly than we can keep pace! As a result, I believe we are kept “off-balance” and seldom contemplate as much about what we are doing as how we do it.

    I’ve heard/read your comments on anonymity on the web and have come to believe it is a major factor. Hiding behind the electronic curtain, people feel a freedom to use language and craft comments that they would never do if they thought they might need to defend those statements with family, friends, colleagues, or others with whom they would need to transact relationships in “real life.” Further, it allows many to foster fantasy personas. Might regular practice of rude and narcissistic behaviors on line lead to expression of those behaviors offline?

    Further, while the internet appears to be a great tool for fostering conversations on a larger scale than we could have imagined just a couple of decades ago, it is also an impediment to participation in those conversations for many. Why would I want to post something that will stimulate dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of spiteful, hateful responses. That isn’t conversation, that’s bullying. I also need to exercise restraint in my comments in many forums if I stop to contemplate the possibility that my boss, my customers, or others of significance may figure out that it’s me and retaliate if my interactions are not sensitive to the political atmosphere of the day.

    The internet is a wonderful tool. But it is also a dangerous tool that can have profound impact. I don’t use facebook, twitter, etc. It’s not been without cost. I’ve missed a lot of my grandkids’ lives since their parents use facebook as their almost exclusive means of communication. But I don’t really want to know about a lot of the other things they post. And most of all, I don’t want my life posted! Not that I have anything to hide, but I like to have privacy.

    Ken, I look forward to seeing this topic fleshed out in much greater detail. I think there are facets impacting society that very few are contemplating. The conversation may reveal some very interesting phenomena!

    Les

    • October 4, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Les:

      Greetings.

      Thank you for your helpful and thoughtful comments. I agree with you that this big topic needs further reflection and conversation.

      So thank you for reading my article and giving it some thought.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  3. October 7, 2016 at 4:44 am

    What about aiming at being regular quality content producers on social media ? Would’t that motivate us to spend the required time in solitude and reflection ?

    • October 7, 2016 at 4:05 pm

      Alain:

      Some think my work is boring so that may help people to get their needed time of solitude and reflection.

      KS

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