Social Media: A Tool to Engage or Disengage?

In my previous post I commented on the idea raised by Sherry Turkle that social media can have a detrimental affect on society in that it can confuse superficial connection with genuine connection and communication. While that is certainly a growing problem it does not mean that social media is all bad. Like most tools we use in life, it can have a detrimental affect or a life enhancing affect depending on how it is used.

There is currently a lot of concern about the damage social media can do to existing relationships. Excessive social media use can erode intimacy and introduce opportunity for conflict about issues such as what is shared and who with. Agreeing on limits you are both comfortable with – and respecting them – is important. On the up side, social media can provide a way to engage in broader communities which can enhance your feeling of involvement in life, something that has been shown to contribute to a sense of well-being which in turn reduces depression.  As in all things, balance is the key.

So what are some dos and don’ts that help us stay on the positive side of the social media effect?

DON’T use social media to replace real life relationships.

Social media is a great way to enhance real life relationships but it does not replace them. It does help you to stay connected when life gets busy, but if a person is import to you remember to make the time to nurture that relationship away from the Internet.

While social media can feel like s ‘safe’ way to interact with other people, and some engagement is better than none when you are genuinely restricted in your opportunities to interact with people in person, don’t use it to avoid real life interaction. If you suffer from social anxiety or know you are socially awkward then consider seeking help. There are many skills you can learn to overcome these issues and it will be worth it in the long-term.

DON’T use social media to disengage from life.

While immersing yourself in social media on your smart phone on a crowded commuter bus or train is a perfect way to disengage from the people around you and create a sense of your own personal space, doing the same thing at home when surrounded by your family is unhealthy. If you are doing this at home on a regular and extended basis, ask yourself if there are issues there that you are effectively hiding from. If so, they are better faced than avoided.

DON’T use social media as a form of self validation.

20 people liked the photo you just posted, wow, that feels great. That last comment got some great responses on Twitter, you feel like your opinion has been validated. All these things feel good, sure, enjoy it, but don’t depend on it. The general public is fickle and can turn against you just as quickly in a thoughtless moment when you post something a little more controversial. Know who you are and what you stand for before you hit the open social media scene or you will forever be changing direction in response to the latest majority opinion. If you are affected in this way consider connecting only with people that know you and know who you are. Knowing your own self takes time and maturity. Honor yourself by giving yourself the space to become who you want to be, not the result of the influence of other people.

DON’T ever use social media to cause damage to another person.

An obvious one yes,  but such an easy trap to fall into. Mind your own business, not anyone else’s, you don’t know anyone’s full story, even if you think you do. Spur of the moment rants are far too easy to succumb to but the damage can be long-lasting, so never post anything in the heat of the moment. If you do, own up to your behaviour and make an effort to fix the damage, don’t just pretend it never happened. People will respect you more for admitting to a mistake than for denying one.

DO limit your use of social media

It’s all too easy to let social media be a constant presence in our lives as we multitask it alongside all our other activities. That can become a habit that is hard to break, becoming a distraction from being fully present at any given time and hindering us from being available to the people around us – preventing us from fully engaging in life. Try to make social media an activity that you do consciously at set time intervals and do not check it in between. Consider turning notifications off on your smart phone if they are too tempting.

 DO use social media to share your life with friends and loved ones.

Post those photos, make those comments! It’s great when sharing in this way serves to enhance relationships, not replace them.

DO use social media to share your hobby or passion.

Share your knowledge with others and gain knowledge yourself. A hobby or passion is fulfilling and never more so than when it is shared.

DO use social media to make your voice heard.

If you have a positive message to spread then by all means do it, post away. There are many ways you can contribute to the bigger picture, from participating in research to supporting people and causes, just try to ensure your message is always a positive one.



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