Social Media, the Positive

Some write apocalyptic warnings about social media, while others fail to think of its impact. But this piece, by Zeynep Tufekci, shows that social media have positive impacts as well.

What are two positives for you because of social media?

That might not have been apparent to those who picked up their Sunday New York Times to find Sherry Turkle’s latest essay arguing that social media are driving us apart. If anything, social media is a counterweight to the ongoing devaluation of human lives. Social media’s rapid rise is a loud, desperate, emerging attempt by people everywhere to connect with *each other* in the face of all the obstacles that modernity imposes on our lives: suburbanization that isolates us from each other, long working-hours and commutes that are required to make ends meet, the global migration that scatters families across the globe, the military-industrial-consumption machine that drives so many key decisions, and, last but not least, the television — the ultimate alienation machine — which remains the dominant form of media. (For most people, the choice is not leisurely walks on Cape Cod versus social media. It’s television versus social media).

As a social media researcher and a user, every time I read one of these “let’s panic” articles about social media (and there are many), I want to shout: Look at TV! Look at commutes! Look at suburbs! Look at long work hours! That is, essentially, my response to Stephen Marche’s “Facebook Is Making Us Lonely,” which ran in The Atlantic magazine.

And then, please, look at the extensive amount of data that show that social-media users are having more conversations with people — online and off!…

What evidence we do have does not suggest a displacement of one type of conversation (offline) with another (online). All data I’ve seen say that people who use social media are either also more social offline;or that they have benefited from social media to keep in touch with people they otherwise could not; or thatmany people find fellows, peers and like-minded individuals they otherwise could not find. In other words, texting, Facebook-status updates, and Twitter conversations are not displacing face-to-face socializing — on average, they are making them stronger. Social media is enhancing human connectivity as people can converse in ways that were once not possible. Surveys also show that most families think social media enhances their family life — they can stay in touch better, more frequently. (Obviously, there are many complex impacts and not every person is going to “average” impacts.)


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  • phil_style

    Social media is so last year. But the “buzz” hangover still generates a lot of commentary.

    z.electric” is, undoubtedly, the next craze, which everyone will be writing about within 12 months. 😉

  • Wrote a whole book on this exact issue:

    “The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet”

  • Kyle

    I’ll definitely second the notion that social media makes me more social (and I’m not counting the time interfacing with the media itself–which I’d argue it valuably social, if incomplete, in its own right). It amazes me how much more easily I can bump into the friend also perusing books at the library or the former teacher sipping tea two storefronts down from my deli by screening for their whereabouts using geo-tools. Every trip out of town adds a pit-stop to reconnect with an old face, and unscheduled nights are filled with responses to “Anyone have an interest in catching move ______ tonight?” Sure, there are myriad old-fashioned ways to stay in touch with and develop deeper relationships with good friends, but I enjoy how social media gives me ample excuse to test whether I might be able to expand that inner circle a few inches. Not that FB encounters borne of half-intentionality have to spawn a great friendship to be highly valuable.

  • I’m no Facebook zealot or a believer in the Foursquare horsemen of the apocalypse, but in the main I use Social Media as a necessity. Last year I gave up my online existence entirely for months following a nervous breakdown that had to do, in part, with social network overload. There is only so much 24 hour immediacy and superfluous information that I can take. I accept that for many who make extensive use of Social Networks there is a knock-on benefit for face to face interaction. As an introvert I strongly suspect though, that the results would be different for an introvert sample. I certainly do meet people I talk to online. A significant part of my work involves network, whether face to face or virtual.

    So, I’m sitting on the fence. I am willing to put up with Social Networking because it has a terrific power of interconnection. At the same time I find all online communication ‘disembodied’. I would definitely argue that the accent should fall on face to face community, supplemented by Social Networking. I don’t agree that the choice isn’t Cape Cod vs Social Networking. There is a real sense in which we are becoming ever more insulated from the natural world. At the moment we’re involved in the development of ‘Walking Church’ ( Definitely face to face, boots on the ground stuff, but we get the word out via Social Networking. That feels like the right way round.

  • Margaret

    Thanks for posting on the positive side of social media–we hear so much about the negative it’s refreshing to hear a new perspective!

  • Jesse

    I gave up Twitter and blogging over a year ago because I realized I was damaging my own soul. Fishing for attention in the sea of other, more famous, Christians. It became the means to a very unhealthy end and I hated who I was becoming. It’s not bad in itself, I don’t think, but I do wonder how this kind of interaction is feeding our egos and what the long-term effect will be.

    I kept Facebook so I could continue to connect with and keep up with people I actually know. Only recently have I thought about rejoining Twitter. I used to be “up to speed” on a lot that I am now not. Things I care about related to ministry and such.

    I’m still mulling it over, wondering whether I’ve grown past my own selfish ambition enough to get my tweet on without destroying my own soul.