The Power Social Media Has in Connecting – And Disconnecting – Us

I’m so excited to have my first guest post of the year share a little bit about her experience with social media. Amy Weinland Daughters is an author who is coming out with a book on May 17, 2022 called “Dear Dana: That Time I Went Crazy and Wrote All 580 of my Facebook Friends a Handwritten Letter.” When I first heard about this book, the first thing I said to my husband was “that sounds like my kind of book!” Many of you know how much I love handwritten letters, so I can’t wait to read Amy’s book! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy her post about how social media can connect and disconnect us below.

Amy’s letters to Facebook friends

In 2004 Myspace reached one million active users, a watershed moment that signaled the dawn of the age of social media. Speed forward a mere 18 years later, and Facebook has 2.89 billion monthly active users across the globe. That’s roughly 35 percent of the world population. 

To say it’s transformed the culture of human interaction would be a gross understatement.

While the advent of the telegraph (1844), telephone (1876) and texting (1992) enabled individuals to communicate one-on-one in real time – social media allows us to be connected without deliberately being a part of a conversation. 

Though we can choose to participate via posting, sharing, commenting, and liking for all to see, we can also play the role of bystander – an individual on the sidelines who observes the interaction without contributing. 

The reality is, most people who engage in social media – which is most of us whether we admit it or not – fall somewhere between these two extremes, we are active participants and silent bystanders.

The result is an alternate universe that seems like reality, but it can’t be. Not because it’s inherently “bad”, but because even though it can feel, taste and smell like actual human interaction – like real relationship – it just isn’t.

Before proceeding with the bashing of social media, let’s take a step back and acknowledge the absolute value it offers us as human beings who crave the company of other human beings.

The Connecting Points

The truth is social media allows us to do something that without it would be impossible – interacting with hundreds, even thousands, of people at the same time. 

With it, we can keep in touch. We can know things that otherwise we wouldn’t. 

Armed with this knowledge we can support and encourage one another. While we might not be there “in person” we can be there in a way that has the potential to make a meaningful difference. 

Beyond that we can entertain one another, providing a much-needed distraction from the reality of our world. Then there’s the sharing of information – though often fraught – social media does have value for getting the word out, especially when we can agree on a defined truth.  

It all adds up to a sense of actual, genuine, community that wouldn’t be without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, etc. 

Don’t think so?

Consider the essential outlet social media has provided throughout the pandemic. Despite all its inherent flaws, it’s made people feel less alone when the potent danger of loneliness is as prevalent as it’s been in our lifetimes.

The Disconnect

The other truth is – we can’t be in real relationship with hundreds of people. It’s not that we don’t like – or even love – our on-line community, it’s that we can’t be there – in a real, in-person, way.

Social media doesn’t require us to personally invest in relationships – to sacrifice or to risk something of value to form a closer bond with another person. Instead, it allows us, by its very nature, to dip in and dip out. To show up when we want to. The rules of engagement don’t require us to be deliberate. 

The blueprint of social media – the technological marvel that allows us to share our message with the entire world immediately, is fraught. It doesn’t work for human beings because of who we are. 

Not only do we expect to be responded to, we also desperately need to know we’re listened to. It’s the only way to confirm that another human being cares enough, and that we matter enough, to be heard. And when we’re not, we question ourselves and our message. And since social media doesn’t require us to reply promptly if at all – as a one-on-one phone call would – when we don’t hear back from those who we assumed have read our message, we can feel isolated, unimportant, and alone.

It’s a scenario that seems almost counterintuitive given we’re using a medium that connects us with hundreds of people at the same time. 

No number of likes or comments is ever enough – because someone, or something, is always missing. It’s the sense that somebody, anybody, is here – just for us – individually.  

The good news is while we can’t be in real relationship with hundreds of people, we do have a capacity to solidly show up for, and make a difference to, a select number of friends. And they can do the same for us. The result is having the capacity to care and therefore be cared for. To support and be supported. To love and be loved. Not only is that something, it’s everything

While social media absolutely has substantial value in keeping us connected, it’s crucial that we separate our online relationships from those we do in “real life.” While we care about our virtual community, we also need to cultivate our in-person relationships, not only for our own well-being, but for the well-being of others.

Amy Weinland Daughters is a freelance sportswriter and author. Her second book “Dear Dana: That Time I Went Crazy and Wrote All 580 of my Facebook Friends a Handwritten Letter” (She Writes Press) is due to be released May 17, 2022. Currently a resident of Tomball, Texas (a suburb of Houston), Amy and her family have also lived in Blackwell, England and Dayton, Ohio. 

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