Does Social Media Create or Destroy Community?   5 comments

Tonight, I was with a group of women, and Kristin leaned over and said, “Oh, Pinterest.”

On the other side of me, Beth said, “I’ve decided to avoid it altogether. I can get lost in Facebook.

Donna said, “My daughter posts 35 pictures of my granddaughter, and I love seeing them, but I can’t comment on all of them like other people do.”

“I can spend hours on StumbleUpon, “I said.  And off the conversation went . . . the joys and challenges of social media.I have this conversation just about once a week it seems.

As a person who spends most of her days alone, I find social media extremely valuable because it connects me to people I love, introduces me to new people, and gives me knowledge I didn’t have. For example, Twitter told me about Justin Bieber’s denial of his “baby daddy” status – this is valuable.  Seriously though, I find my online community to be very important to my emotional health as well as to my writing.  I would call many people I have met through social media friends and mean that as more than a Facebook connection.

But social media is also a terrible time suck. I can lose hours following the threads of information on Twitter.  On Facebook, I could bury myself in updates, trying to read everything that everyone I’ve “friended” has posted.  And don’t get me started on StumbleUpon or Pinterest . . . things tailored to my interests specifically, they are like Halloween candy – delicious for the first few pieces but then a tummy ache descends.

But more than just taking time, time that I might spend with actual humans, social media can also drive people apart.  We are quickly becoming comfortable with our private lives being public, and sometimes we say things that probably should not be said – at least not to 1000 people you only marginally know.  For example, today someone on my Facebook feed posted that she wished people would stop talking about her and her children.  I didn’t know how to take that – was this a message pointed to someone who would read it? Was it a request for commiseration?  A hope that someone would intervene?  Because I could not decipher any of those messages, I did with most such cryptic chatter – I ignored it.

Face-to-face, I hope I wouldn’t do the same thing.  I think that if a friend told me that to my face I would have much more of a sense of what she was feeling, and I would respond appropriately.  But on Facebook, I have no context, so I don’t engage . . . this is not community building.

So I’m of two minds about social media – great benefit and also great detriment.  I expect we will, as a society, grow into this still new form. . . I just hope we do it before we lose ourselves in inanity and decontextualized commentary.

What do you think of social media?  Love it? Hate it? Why? Why not?

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5 responses to “Does Social Media Create or Destroy Community?

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  1. I’ve thought about this and written about it, too. Social media is great in moderation and used wisely. But I admit that sometimes it’s difficult for me to keep a good balance. If I get sucked down the rabbit hole for hours, then I feel fuzzy and almost disoriented. It’s almost like a chemical reaction!

    Balance and willpower are definitely required.

  2. I think it can go both ways, and it’s all in our approach. The one thing I would say is, give it time. Social Media is still very new and we are still finding our way and getting our “sea legs” so to speak. I believe many of these same questions and feelings were voiced at the birth of radio, television, the phone, and yet they have become fully integrated into our lives.

    The other side comes down to how we define the word community. Does community necessarily connote face to face relationships? I’m not sure it does, and that’s not to say I don’t value that. I think that is of utmost importance. How we define community has changed over the centuries, and it will continue to evolve, and perhaps be somewhat cyclical.

    • I agree, Ken. I find a great deal of community online – great conversations, support, and insight. . . . it will be quite interesting to see how this develops. Thanks for reading.

  3. I’m not a CS Lewis scholar by any means, but I’ve seen Facebook described, in at least one forum, as a modern day representation of Lewis’s hell in The Great Divorce. Based on my understanding of the Lewis book, it probably overstates the case; I certainly tolerate more nonsense online than I would in real life, in part because it’s so easy to ignore.

    I do understand the value, in part, and I know it allows old people like me to keep tabs on friends from past lives.

    However, I think that social media appeal to our collective national narcissistic qualities, and feeds our ongoing attention-deficit disorder as well. Things that feed these beasts tend to get worse, not better. Put me down as a vote for “destroy”…

    • As one of those friends from past lives, Mark, I’m grateful for social media, but I know what you mean. I expect we will soon all find this normal – for good or ill – but I do hope we don’t allow it to take over for real, face to face friendships. Thanks for reading.

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