By David Staat
I am not a big social media guy. As a matter of fact, I avoided getting involved for years because of all the negative comments I heard from friends, family, and the media. Last year, however, I decided to experience social media so I could understand the technology pros and cons and could make an informed decision as to whether there was any value in it for me.
I have been on Instagram for a year, and now I have been on MeWe for about six months. I chose MeWe because of their commitment to maintain privacy and protect personal information.
Here are a few things I have learned:
Social media isn’t evil as some of my friends have stated. It is a tool only, and sometimes people with evil intentions use the tool improperly. It also appears that some folks like to just dump every thought and emotion they have onto social media with little structure about the point they are trying to make. However, I have found that it is also a tool that can be used in a positive way to expand my network of friends, harvest valuable information from people in the know, and get lots of information out to a focused group.
I have discovered that not all social media services are created equal. Some are more controlling of specific content which can manifest itself in stifling free speech. Some tend to track people and sell their personal activities to who knows who, which I consider unethical and an invasion of individual privacy. However, in the last few years, the number of social media platforms has expanded to include companies that respect people’s privacy and encourage a constructive exchange of ideas.
It is also easy to get hooked on the social media chatter, wasting a lot of time interacting on subjects that can be of questionable value. However, on a cold rainy or snowy day, or when it is blistering hot, social media can be a useful tool for chatting with others and sharing common interest and ideas. Self discipline is important to balance time between time on social media and other activities away from the screen.
I admit that I have received inappropriate information and comments from people who have bad intentions. I have been “attacked” by some who don’t agree with me, and I think that has been the biggest complaint I have heard from people in general. However, the attacks have been very rare, and there are ways to mitigate that kind of activity.
Looking more on the positive side, I have been able to connect with people who have common interests, such as camping, traveling, wildlife photography, history, and DIY projects. For example, a vintage sewing machine interest group helped Virginia and me when we reconditioned a 1918 treadle sewing machine last fall.
The two camping groups I interact with have given me first-hand information about camping sites in the Pacific Northwest when we travel there this summer. Many of these camping places I would never have found on a normal internet search. The wildlife photo groups have also shared places to take wildlife photos, shared photo techniques, and have given me feedback on my photography.
From my perspective, social media is a fancy and flexible email and communications system that is very powerful. Where a website is passive in nature, requiring people to go to it, social media is more active in that I can craft whatever information I want to share… words, photos, videos, sketches… target the audience I want to share it with, and push it out to them. My audience can be a specific individual that I have contact with, a specific group that I have common interests with, or I can broadly broadcast to the general public that is using the platform I am on. It is my choice how and with whom I want to communicate. I can also block specific people or information that I am not interested in, i.e. nudity, political opinions, and people I consider — well — wackos. In summary, I can structure my interactions with a very focused group of individuals.
Social media is also a godsend for people who are shut in. My 97-year-old mother used Facebook to keep up with her children and grandchildren. I have a good friend with Parkinson’s who lives in an assisted living facility and has trouble with verbal communications. He was a very active guy, and it is very difficult for him to be so limited in what he can do. But he uses social media to stay connected with his friends and family, and to meet new people, so it helps him stave off depression.
It is correct to say that social media can be and often is used poorly. But the flipside is that it can also be an effective tool to connect people of common interests, expand one’s circle of friends, and facilitate broadly focused communications with like-minded people.
I freely admit that for years I considered social media as part of the Evil Empire. I resisted it. However, I have learned that social media can be a useful and positive tool that promotes the best of who we are.
As a last thought, a friend of mine recently closed a Zoom conference meeting I was on with the following comment: “Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” I will add to that: “even for an old guy like me.”