This is not intended as a teetotaler response; rather it is suggesting that we teach internet users to “drink responsibly” while online.
Within the “problems with social media” shared in the 30-Day Writing Challenge on Facebook, there were a variety of what one might call truths and others that could be categorized more as exaggerations. Take, for example, that the internet “destroys relationships.” I would counter that it might have just as much potential to build them up. In fact, social media might be where you find those relationships in the first place.
To Paul Miller, reflecting back on his year offline in his article in The Verge [May 1, 2013), I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet, the have or have not of the internet became a relational issue, and that it still is. The internet is simultaneously the hero and the villain. Paul felt a degree of freedom without his “Twitter interactions”; although I wonder what he really means by “interactions.” Scrolling through tweet after tweet, hashtag after hashtag, can be overwhelming, overstimulating, mind-blowing (in a not-so-good way). On the other hand, having a Twitter Chat with close friends and followers can be rejuvenating, connecting, even community-building. Hopefully Paul’s return to Twitter a year later was with a more relational and conversational perspective, rather than as “passive consumption,” as he described his downfall into people-less pastimes.
On a potentially important sidenote, as Paul’s internet-less year continued, it was quite telling when he confessed how he began spending his time on “offline vices.” It is well documented that a main cause of isolation in young people (or older people, for that matter), is video game “use”; and my reference to addictive behavior, as in “drug use,” is intentional. Video games need not be on the internet to be distracting, all-consuming, and isolating. In addition, Paul referenced his switch from paper book reading to audio book listening. Certainly book reading is considered positive brain ‘exercise’; but I haven’t heard that book listening provides the same benefits. Furthermore, multi-tasking these activities can be downright exhausting – even when done on the couch. How ironic. It might very well be that Paul’s choices of offline vices were just as detrimental to his relationships as his online ones.
The good and evil debate about the internet continues. It reduces our in-person engagement, the see-hear-feel of human connection. Yet it also allows for networking that could otherwise never take place – across thousands of miles and time zones. For example, FaceTime includes real live tone and expression that the snail mail written word could never provide. My family members are more connected than they have ever been; with dozens of communications a day, rather than a phone call every week…or month.
And in this battle against the internet, I wonder if there aren’t those who are fighting a fight that they can’t win, when they could be victorious if they were to change their perspective on what the fight really is. “Get people off the internet!”, they cry, restrict their phone time, remove that SnapChat app. But let’s rethink this. As Paul put it, the internet is where the people are, where they can be connected. The internet natives are “people who need people” and social media is a place they can find them.
So possibly the role to have is not one of mighty wrestler against the internet enemy, but rather of active mentor, guide, and social media navigator. This is not a teetotaler response, rather it is closer to teaching internet users how to “drink responsibly.” Possibly the conversation to have is about who the online connections are with, and what are the conversations they are having? Maybe a more effective discussion would be about how to branch out beyond snaps of what was served for breakfast (although there is something fun and whimsical about this too). Let’s explore together how we can pose (or post) a question, or make a thoughtful statement, that might just result in an answer with some content – with some heart. No, not every time… but sometimes. Let’s see if we can have a real conversational exchange once or twice a day – it need not be lengthy – although by definition a conversation seems to imply some actual content. On the other hand, what is real content? Let’s have that conversation. I welcome your thoughts.