As with most technologies they can be used for both good and bad purposes. When the printing press was invented ideas were disseminated at a hitherto unprecedented rate. It aided the spread of the Bible and good books that have been a blessing to mankind as well as propaganda for wars and revolutions. Earlier tools such as the knife were useful in the kitchen but also as a weapon. Nuclear power has wrecked horrific destruction but also powers homes fossil-free. You can no doubt think of other inventions that are double edged swords.
Social media is no different. I first drafted this several weeks ago and my wife said it was far too focussed on the negative. As usual she was right. I will try and emphasise the positive.
A wonderful, easy and cheap tool for keeping in touch with almost anyone and everyone, anywhere. Amazing that I can greet people on their birthday in a few clicks. Public service announcements on everything from disaster response to finding a lost dog or cat. WhatsApp and Facebook (FB) groups are great for connecting families and common interest groups. Personally I have met up with people face to face after 40+ years out of touch through social media. There are many helpful and creative posts and articles. So many generous people out there willing to share their expertise and knowledge on video. Youtube gives me the potential to try my hand at virtually any DIY job (a danger for me).
Social media can also be an addictive and manipulative power that corrupts. Too much exposure shortens our attention span. Lapses in short term memory and concentration. I can encounter people and organisations with evil intent. Fake news and conspiracy theories have the potential to distort my worldview. I could go on but then I’d be focussing on the negative and have to rewrite again.
My limited experience of social media is mainly FB, Messenger and WhatsApp. It is also not lost on me that this blog/ website is also a form of social media! I am competing for your attention.
Recently I watched the drama documentary film ‘The Social Dilemma’. In it some of the early creators of social media platforms are interviewed. They helped design the platforms and their algorithms. Also the addictive dopamine inducing ‘like’ buttons, ‘ping’ sounds and so on. They share their fears and misgivings about some of the mind shaping powers they have unleashed. One of the most telling is how they themselves manage what they have created. Some forbid their children to use, others speak of their own addiction to checking their phone. Some don’t use the apps they have designed citing privacy concerns.
Access to social media is not free. There is a cost! It’s said that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. The product is our attention. I am easily distracted and can see that it makes it harder to focus or concentrate on one thing. Social media is not a tool. A tool waits to be used, like a hammer. It does not beg to be used or manipulate us to get used. It waits.Some insights from a review of ‘The Social Dilemma’ by Jay McGinley**.
With that backdrop here are a few ways I try to manage social media. It may be from an older guy’s perspective but suspect issues faced are similar to many. I do not always practice what I preach.
- Turn off notifications on apps including email. No pings or ‘badge’ notices on FB. As a result I look at them much less. Any reminder to check comes from within myself. Lo and behold when I do this I sometimes forget to check for hours or even a day or two. Life still goes on. Yes occasionally I am slow to pick up a private message on Whatsapp or Messenger but not something to fret about.
- If scrolling through FB timeline I try to engage with comments, likes etc. Research shows scrolling without engaging affects mood negatively.
- The only ping sound I allow is from a normal text message.
- Realise ‘friends’ are a misnomer. They are more like contacts in an address book. Some will be real friends but I will generally know more about them than from what’s said in a FB post.
- Only have people I actually know or have met as ‘friends’.
- Be sparing about the number of ‘friends’ I have. Just because it’s possible to have 4,999 on FB doesn’t mean I should strive for this. Face to face I’m told most of us will have meaningful friendships with just a handful of people. Having 5,000 ‘friends’ will of course increase probability of getting more likes and comments on almost anything. If pings and chimes are switched on they demand my attention and draw me back for more.
- Rejoice with those having good experiences of life and weep with those who are suffering. (Romans 12 vs 15).
- Be aware I am selling my limited attention to the platform and its ever changing algorithms as well as freely engaging with friends.
- Celebrate the good and the potential of social media but be aware of how much time it takes. Don’t throw out ‘the baby with the bath water’.
Occasionally I get something very special. A hand-written letter or card. Now that demands attention.
**You can read Jay McGinley’s review here.