My children are social media butterflies. They hover around a networking site for a while and then they fly off to check out some other blooming online communication opportunity. Because of this, I have been introduced to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Tumblr, and probably some others that I have forgotten. It’s quite possible that my children move on because their mother has found them, and they want to find a place to chat with their friends without her prying eyes! Or, maybe they just get bored. Whatever the reason, I am grateful to them for blazing these trails for me. I love social media.
I particularly like Facebook because it keeps me in touch with family and friends in Canada, the USA, and the UK. That is important to me. I feel as though I am still connected with them somehow, even though we rarely meet. I like to think we still care about each other, and this is one way to reassure myself that we actually do. It’s like getting air-dropped care parcels.
It’s easy to criticize Facebook as being trivial nonsense, and indeed there is rarely anything profound about the information shared there. Sometimes people post jokes, or talk about the view from their window, or put up a picture of a special meal, or link to an article they liked. Most of the time it’s very superficial stuff.
The content is not usually about important issues of the day. It’s more akin to saying “Hi. What’s new?” to a neighbour– the kind of conversation you have when you meet someone while you are on your way to run an errand. It may be just incidental details, casual comments, and even occasional silences. It is social cement. It’s how you find out that everything is more-or-less OK.
Social media isn’t all trivia, though. It also tells me about significant changes in people’s lives and things that really matter to them. Sometimes I find out that a friend is about to live through a tornado, or a family member has been taken ill, or that someone has a new and important job. When those things happen, that’s when I switch to other forms of communication.
I can have longer conversations with people over the phone, and I can write more carefully constructed thoughts in a letter. These days, I mostly use the phone for business matters or urgent issues, and letter-writing has become reserved for special (sometimes serious) occasions. The rest of the time, social networking on the internet works best for me. I can write little and often, rather than writing a lot occasionally, and I can say something once to reach dozens of people.
As useful as that is, social media’s value for me is not primarily about what I write. It is more about what I read. I love knowing that my great-niece or nephew has graduated from high school, that a friend just went on vacation to an exotic location, that co-worker got a new puppy. It’s those kinds of little tidbits that make the cold unreality of the internet into a heartwarming experience.
And the pictures! It is a joy to see smiling faces of people I care about on my computer screen. In only a few minutes each day I am able to see children as they grow and adults as they…well…ripen into maturity. I can’t visit most of these people, but I can get a sense of how they are doing. Facebook wasn’t invented for people like me who have moved away from their families, but we are probably why it continues to be so popular.
I actually wish that more of my family participated in it, but I understand why they don’t. Some of them take a look at Facebook , see the trivia, see bad jokes, see strident political messages, and they say “Who needs this?” But, those folks can usually get to see other family members fairly often, and when they see each other they don’t talk politics or pass around cartoons.
It’s those of us who are far away, or living in more isolated circumstances, or who have a really wide family and social circle who need it. I couldn’t possibly phone or write letters to all the people I care about on a regular basis. Even if I did, most of them wouldn’t reply.
Why would they? They have social media.