The term social media is tossed around like a football during the Super Bowl now. At its core, we know what it is, but many people are afraid to use it, engage in it, or access it for fear that it will control them rather than the other way around. If we look at it carefully though, we will see that there are good elements, bad elements, and then "ugly" elements – those things that form the reason for the negative image. However, social media can be a highly effective tool in our day-to-day lives when we understand its purpose.
In this first part of our series, we will address the fundamental nature of social media. Whether you call them "friends," "connections," "fans," "followers," or something else, the fundamental purpose of these services is to connect, or reconnect, with others. It's much like having the telephone directory left on your front door step. When the phone book is dropped off on your door step, there is no fear, but you also do not call everyone in the book at once to tell them that you now have their number. The phone book is there to give you the potential of people with what you might wish to make contact, and likewise, social media serves the same purpose.
The immediate "good" quality of this, readily seen, is that when you need to connect to someone, or when you want to reconnect with someone from your past, there are now a myriad of ways, most of which are free, to do so. If you participate in some of the big ones, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., then you know that there are ways to search out possible friends through these services. Facebook, the largest of the social media moguls, is quite adept at finding people with only a few pieces of information. The good that has come from this, and the friendships that have been formed, have been endlessly told in the media. Suffice it to say that connecting with friends can be a good thing, and when used appropriately, it is no more exceeding than making or receiving a phone call.
The "bad" side of this connecting aspect of social media is that sometimes people lose sight of the boundaries of normal communication. Sometimes too much is shared through public postings, and things that might be best left unspecified publicly posted online and quickly spread. Boundaries and respectful dialog are always beneficial in any method of communication, and this holds true for social media as well. Some of the negative image of social media has to do with connections that are formed between people who lose sight of these boundaries.
Connections between friends, handled appropriately as stated, are always uplifting bonds. However, on the "ugly" side of these connections is a connection or online friendship that usurps the existing bonds that have previously existed outside of the social media. They are rare, but there have been cases where marriages have failed due to the renewed friendship of an old flame, people give in to unhealthy interests that are far too read encrypted online, or some other form of abuse use of social media takes place.
Does that mean social media is evil? No, but like the phone book, it should be used as a tool only. It should not become the only method of communication, but for those whom you may wish to connect with, or those who live in other geographic areas, it is becoming one of the quickest ways to maintain and encourage friendships when directly connecting is not possible . Soldiers can connect back home, loved ones who are temporarily apart can communicate, and friendships can be sustained over time and space when these connections are handled responsibly and appropriately. Keep your connections respectful and appropriate, and the fundamental purpose of social media can be a wondrously good tool to have available.