Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Facebook: friend or foe?

Like many, I suspect, I see social media as a double-edged sword. Is it great fun? On its good days, yes. A way to stay in touch, reach out, be informed? Absolutely. But it's also a platform for a lot of posing, not to mention a colossal waste of time. At its worst, it's a disturbingly effective way to spread lies, hate, and fear.

I've written before about this love-hate relationship with social media. A while back, the balance slammed down heavily on the side of "hate" when someone started intentionally using a platform-not-to-be-named to alienate me. Some of you, especially those who know me in the physical world, are probably thinking, "Oh man! As if that would work! I bet you showed them!"

Sorry, but no. Not at all. I wasn't angry, you see. If I'm mad, then heck yeah, I'll come out swinging. Nor was there an actual fight, and even if there had been, I only engage in fights if a) they're worth having and b) I'm pretty sure I can win. I was just hurt. So I did as wounded creatures do: I all but disappeared, from the virtual world, anyway.

Before long, I began to love my Facebook-free world. Aside from this blog, social media disappeared from my search histories, and you still can't find apps for anything but Blogger on my shiny new iPhone. I read more books, drank more coffee, got more sleep. I not only protected my heart, I also ceased being agitated by political and religious drivel from all sides of the aisle. Time not spent online was spent with my kids, my pets, my piano, my pen. Life was good.

Then another shift, another injury, this one terribly physical, terribly real. A little girl from our church suffered a horrific car accident. I started logging in again, anxious for updates, for signs of healing in a life in peril. As the story unfolded and the girl began to get well, I learned that without Facebook, it might have taken far longer for her to be identified and her parents to be found. Social media had, unequivocally, saved the day.

Thus began my quest for balance, for a way to be online with something like mindfulness, or at least a clear sense of intentionality. I limit my time, and I choose my interactions wisely (at least I try!). I only log in if I'm in the mood, and that's not always all that often. If I get hurt, annoyed, or worse, I walk away, but now only until perspective returns. Why bear a grudge for something that exists only on a blue-bordered screen? Social media, like any other experience, is ultimately about how each of us acts, and even more how we react. You can and will find good in the virtual world. Just last night, I was drawn into a Twitter conversation with people who share my passion for changing our treatment of the mentally ill, and came away encouraged. It is surely no accident that this happened on the same day I read Omid Safi's wonderful blog post, "Shine a Light on the Good and the Beautiful." Maybe this post, in some small way, can serve as a response to his call to "stand next to one another, shoulder to shoulder, mirroring the good and the beautiful."

Social media can be anything we want it to be. That is both its curse and its strength. Having a share in building that strength is why I'm back, at least for now.

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