Written by Aaron Charlie– Wed 17 Jul 2013
It seems like social media is accused of ruining the world on an almost daily basis in news and blogs across the web, for a multiplicity of reasons: it's causing the breakdown of relationships, breeding a culture of narcissistic and parasitic youths and shrinking our attention spans to the point that we can barely even finish a senten...
Awful joke aside, this is a serious barrage of allegations to be levelled against what is arguably one of the biggest communication technology developments there has ever been.
And it's just plain wrong. Social media is not ruining your life, my life or the world.
In a lot of ways, it's doing the exact opposite - it's making everything a whole lot better.
Although our Social Media Training focusses on the potential business and marketing uses of social media, it can be used for a whole lot more.
So let's take a look at some of the most often quoted reasons that social media is Satan in technological form and try to debunk these myths.
Since the very beginnings of human history, the older generations (and that might be a generalisation but one which is certainly not untrue) bemoan the technological advancements of the younger generations.
In the 15th century, the newly created printing press and the texts that resulted were seen to promote idle behaviour. In ancient times the invention of the mirror was taken to be a display of narcissism. In the Stone Age, the invention of the means to create fire was thought to be an unnecessary frivolity (probably).
Every time an epochal invention or discovery is made, there will be those who dismiss it as folly or take it to be a sign of the impending apocalypse. In all those cases, those naysayers are proven wrong.
Now that's not to say that each new technology is a flawless advancement, but to call it useless or worse, detrimental to humanity, is just plain wrong.
I had a little chuckle when I read the following in this piece decrying social media in the Huffington Post. The author, David Wygant, says -
"We no longer pick up the phone because we feel someone's not going to answer. We no longer leave personal voicemails. Voicemails are so personal. You can hear voice tone and excitement in someone's voice."
I would wager that plenty of people said something similar when the phone itself was popularised -
"We know longer knock on someone's door because we feel they're not going to answer. We no longer have personal meetings. In-person meetings are so personal. You can see expression and excitement in someone's face."
When you look at it like that, it really is a fallacious argument. Face-to-face meetings will always remain, because they're a fundamental aspect of human social interaction and always have been. Voicemails are not.
The reason we rarely use voicemails these days is because a text or message does the same job. What you lose in personality and expression, you gain in efficiency and ease.
Clearly this is a trade-off that most people are happy to make, otherwise there'd be a ream of voicemail enthusiasts, championing its merits like vinyl-loving hipsters.
What David seems to ignore is the fact that social networks can be more than just text-based. I'll accept the view that Skype is perhaps not social media in the traditional sense, but Google Hangouts and Facebook Video Chats certainly are.
Add in photo and video sharing on everything from Instagram to Twitter and social networking is far more personal and expressive than a simple phone call.
Which leads me to the next point -
Now I'll put it out there - I'm not a fan of this trend of taking photos of food and applying a grainy filter that attempts to make a Big Mac look like haute cuisine. To each their own and all that but personally, not once has it crossed my mind to Instagram my Domino's before chowing down.
In other areas of life though, it's undeniable that the photo and video sharing platform that social media provides actually enhances day-to-day experiences.
On a recent trip to Poland, far from spending the whole time missing the fun while taking photos of said fun, my friends and I took photos selectively and now we're back, we have a small collection of decent photos to remember our trip by.
These are on Facebook but more as a way to share the memories with each other than with the world. Also, in quieter moments on the trip, we messed around with the new panorama feature on the iPhone - providing plenty of fun and japes when people were cut out or left deformed in the images (which by the way, you'd learn how to fix on our Photoshop Training); those too are now on Facebook!
We only did this when we were relaxing and didn't have much on, and so it gave us something to do for a moment or two.
I'm not saying that trip wouldn't have been great without social media and photos but having those added to the experience and memories when home.
Another thing social media enhances is watching TV. I'm not sure I'd have stomached the entirety of the recent 'The Apprentice' series were it not for the acerbic and witty tweets that I read as an accompaniment.
The little jibes from journalists, celebrities and common folk alike really did make watching the show more fun.
If you're one of these people that doesn't watch trash TV or TV at all, well, good for you.
The majority of us can't help but unwind in front of a programme about a cockney-lad-come-good who likes pointing his finger at people and making terrible, terrible puns -
Twitter and social media make the experience somewhat more tolerable.
Yes, it's a way to distract ourselves from our own mortality, but then what isn't?
Sorry, that was a bit depressing wasn't it?
When people talk about the negative impact of social media, they tend to focus on Facebook and Twitter and to be fair, as the largest platforms, this makes sense.
But there are other social sites, and pretty darn useful ones at that. LinkedIn for example is not only great for finding job listings; it's amazing for business networking and even brushing up on your industry knowledge.
Your profile can and does act as your CV too. I know people personally who have been head-hunted through LinkedIn and with over half of employers checking potential hires' social media profiles, a LinkedIn account can be a professionally acceptable 'face' for employers to view.
Even Facebook and Twitter can be used for job-hunting - nearly half of all US job-seekers last year scoured Facebook at least once for opportunities.
I'm not saying that LinkedIn and social media will replace traditional job boards and face-to-face interviews but it can certainly complement them.
And then there are relationships. You can find and meet new people so easily on social media, whether that's for a romantic involvement or just friendly chat.
Groups and communities centred around a shared interest are often a great way for people to bond and forge the beginnings of a 'real-life' relationship.
Studies have also shown that those who get married after meeting online (admittedly this will include dating sites which aren't strictly social media) on average, have happier, more enduring marriages.
So far from this hysterical media line of 'social media is ruining our relationships', perhaps it's actually creating better ones!
In part two, I'll be exploring some of the other ways in which social media is not ruining the world - from increasing political activism to breeding a more empathetic culture.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think. Tell me in the comments - do you agree that social media is generally a force for good or do you think it's ruining everything?
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