0230C: Social Media Usage Varies

Recent events had me ranting about social media yesterday so I figured I'd try to flesh out my thoughts a wee bit more.

Social media, as an emerging communication medium, is a weird place. Where before you'd have to make direct contact with other people to get their opinions on things at work or over the phone, now your social media streams parade the thoughts and opinions of your peers in a never ending parade of information. And that's a lot of noise no matter how well you curate your feed. There's a reason why the Dunbar Number of meaningful relationships we're capable of maintaining is around 150 people - we can only handle so much.

We use social media for different reasons. Some people want to stay in close contact with friends and family. Others use it as a marketing tool. Others just want to get updates on close family. Others are just there for the games, memes, and all that funny stuff. And so you have a potential co-mingling of your family, your actual friends, your work colleagues and other casual acquaintances in your stream - and that's a weird place to read the opinions of different people all together.

Social media can be pretty stressful, especially when it comes to heated discussions about big news stories and other matters of consequence. And electronic communication like social media is rather limited in capturing emotional tone of discussions and even the most factual statements can come across as being rather offensive at times. Choice of words helps but sometimes word use can also be antagonizing.

Then there's the view of just how much discussion do you want to get on a subject. When people express opinions on social media as status updates or what have you, we all have different reasons for that. And sometimes we don't even want feedback from peers about what we have to say - sometimes we just want to rant. Other times we are opening the doors for discussions and all of that is cool. It's just hard to determine which is which at times, especially given how people have different opinions of what is acceptable on social media and how it should be utilized.

I am a big believer in trimming you contacts down, varying privacy settings and hiding or deleting things that you don't want to see. The parts of your social media space are yours to control and you're more than entitled to manage your space as you see fit. You are not obligated to keep threads open if the discussions get too toxic. You can disable direct messaging entirely if that makes you feel better. The fact those controls exist mean they're yours to use.

But what about "real" friends who want to reach out to you? What about well-intentioned opinions? Well, we're only human and sometimes we're not even receptive to that. However a comment thread visible to other people is hardly the best venue for raising such points. When you comment, it isn't solely about talking to the person who posted whatever - on some level this is also you wanting your comment to be visible to others and to see who will agree or disagree with you. There's still more meaningful discussion to be had one-on-one whether over chat or in person over a cup of coffee.

The additional problem is that social media is just so darned convenient and so a lot of us default to commenting. Facebook literally makes it harder to choose to message versus comment by requiring you to download the Messenger app separately from the Facebook app. Examples like that show how social media tries to train you to keep things more "public" in order to push conversations and thus push engagement rates on the page. Social media makes it feel like so much effort to pick up a phone and discuss things with friends one by one since you can instead broadcast your thoughts to everyone and then see what happens.

Social media is also constantly changing and there are no actual "rules" that are in place to keep up with this still evolving medium. And our best efforts to keep pace with the changes and everyone's differing intentions for social media plus a million other aspects of our daily life all mix up together in a cauldron of chaos.

Social media can lead to some brilliant, amazing, beautiful moments of human interaction and debate. It can also be a cesspool of personal attacks, hurtful words and flippant yet well-intentioned statements. And so one should not embrace social media too much as it's a medium with a lot of flaws and not enough solutions to keep pace with change.