It was the best of ideas. It was the worst of ideas. Social media is one of the modern day conundrums. It’s difficult to decide is it has revolutionized the way we communicate in a positive way or if it has weakened relationships and institutions. The good, the bad and the ugly of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok will be fodder for discussions in Congress, universities and around kitchen tables for decades. In the present we are only beginning to understand its power and how best to use it.
Years ago I heard about students posting photos and communicating on MySpace. Parents would complain about their youngsters staying up half the night almost hypnotized by the new way of being part of a vast group. We teachers would suggest taking the phone away by a certain time of the evening and keeping it until morning so that the students might do their homework and get a good night’s sleep. The lure of social media seemed to be an attraction that only teens enjoyed. Most adults knew very little about it.
Then along came Facebook and a worldwide phenomenon of posting photos and comments and finding friends who had seemingly been absent for years. I was somewhat late in joining, but eventually decided to use it as a way of advertising my blog with friends and members of my family. I enjoyed seeing photos and hearing about trips, new jobs, sporting events, celebrations. It was amiable enough that I saw little reason to be wary. I joined in the act of collecting friends and sharing my own joyful times.
Before long I heard whispers of a dark side of Facebook. Some people used it to taunt others. Some used it in nefarious schemes to bilk innocents out of their money. Political discussions that had once been amiable even when people differed in beliefs became more intense. We saw fewer of our friends on our walls and more and more advertisements and propaganda. Still, the bad seemed to be balanced by reuniting with friends, keeping track of how everyone was doing. It all seemed harmless enough.
Then came the Covid pandemic and it felt as though everyone I knew, including myself, picked a side. Some of us cautiously stayed home while watching many of our friends and family members tempting fate by continuing to gather in large groups. It was often difficult to know who had chosen more wisely. We should have just been content with our own decisions, but politics entered the scene making it feel uncomfortable to have any particular belief. “Unfriending” became a kind of blood sport and it always felt horrific whenever it happened.
I lost people that I loved because of comments that I made on Facebook. Even when I contacted them later to apologize for any way in which my words had hurt them, it seemed to be too late. They were gone from me and that was that. The ugly side of Facebook is that a single sentence can be misunderstood and destroy what had seemed to be a lifetime relationship.
I’m still on Facebook, but not nearly as often as I once was. I post my Wordle results each morning and wish a Happy Birthday to those who have gone another year around the sun. I enjoy the photos of babies, children and teens. I love hearing about successes. I pray for those who are sick and mourn for those who have died. I like to save the recipes that my friends post and vicariously enjoy their vacations. I give them notice of my blog. I avoid political comments like the plague, often hiding those of others lest I join the discussion. I’ve learned my lesson. I no longer ask questions because they seem to be the very thing that moves people to shun me.
I was raised by my mother to be the child who questions everything. She encouraged me and my brothers to ponder ideas and seek explanations. Our family has quite lively discussions about everything whenever we meet. Nobody gets their feelings hurt. It’s just part of our quest to hear different points of view. Philosophically we run the gamut of ideas and it’s okay. We have never tried to push anyone into a box. Sadly, I learned on social media that many others are unlike me and my brothers. They become offended when I disagree with them. I have come to realize that we don’t all enjoy a lively discussion and that’s alright. I respect their wishes.
I still have great friends. They let me be me and I let them be them. They may think I’m out of my mind, but they still love me. These days if I want to discuss my ideas I go to Twitter. It’s great there because I can literally follow those who are interesting to me and block anyone who insists on spewing phenom. None of my friends and relatives are part of the group with whom I regularly communicate. They are simply well versed people who are experts in their fields. It’s like belonging to a salon of thinkers where I constantly learn new things. Only once in a great while does a troll creep in to argue with us, but they are easily discouraged.
Social media is good for me these days. I’m still incredibly sad that I actually lost some dear friends. I am not giving up on winning them back. They are too precious for me to simply walk away. I want more than anything to renew our friendships while I am more careful about how I say things. People and their feelings have always been my top priority and always will be. It really is okay if our ideas don’t mesh. Variety is the spice of life. If we were all alike it will be very dull indeed. Hopefully one day, if I am patient, they will feel comfortable enough to come back.