Keeping the Social in Social Media


Generally this blog is about the psychology of being human, and in to provide some help in making changes to become the best humans we can be.  I enjoy sharing resources and experiences of people I know as well as my own. After all, we’re all on this road together. On a good day maybe readers can gain a bit of Positive Psychology or increase their EQ or Emotional Intelligence.

Sometimes I do comment on events in the news, or on cultural developments that gradually affect us all, sooner or later.  There isn’t any doubt that one of the most profound technical developments, next to the personal computer, is the proliferation of social media. Every aspect of our lives are being shaped by it whether it is keeping in touch with friends, families and co-workers; business and commercial or political influences.

There are lots of jokes about Tweeters telling their followers about the great triple latte they are drinking. And Facebook has provided a forum for sharing everything from the ridiculous to the sublime and everything in between. I have colleagues that are very skilled at developing business connections on Linked In. And of course the list goes on.

When I first joined the Facebook contingent, I intended it more as a business tool.  And I do have business connections on it and find helpful in keeping up with the publishing aspect of my business. But what is probably more rewarding and interesting to me are the friends and acquaintances that have formed a sort of “net” of community and commentary. I have reconnected with childhood friends and relatives that live at a distance, most still living in the part of the country where I grew up, and I love hearing from them.

I confess to also liking silly cat pictures and the occasional funny video of someone’s dog bringing in the mail or howling with the toddler. Pictures of new babies, friends’ kids and grandkids are precious and provide a way of keeping up with family developments. I seldom post pictures because I am technically challenged and am too lazy to figure it out. It’s a trick that my grown children haven’t taught me yet.

It’s interesting to me how varied the opinions and perspectives are. Sometimes those opinions get pretty heated, especially around election time.  And of course political and religious views continue to be posted, along with the suggestion that “friends” click on the “Like” button.

I am a defender of the right to free speech that is outlined in the Bill of Rights. So just as I think that a man has the right to wear his drawers drooping off his behind, but wish he wouldn’t, so it is that I think everyone has a right (unless it is harming someone) to post what they want.  But sometimes I really wish they wouldn’t.

This morning when I checked out Facebook and saw two consecutive posts made by a distant friend, I had that same reaction. The first one was one I have seen before from a page entitled something like “wanting to hit people on the side of the head.” It advocates making drug testing mandatory for welfare recipients; the reader could click “Like” if they agreed. The second post was a picture that was followed by a message to click “Like” if they followed Jesus.

Is it just me or is this at least ironic if not offensive? It promotes a stereotype of poor people that is a tad shocking if not ignorant of the facts.  Could we force the lawmakers who would draft and pass such a bill also be subjected to mandatory drug testing? Many of the drug addicts I have treated over the years were well educated, professionals, none of whom were on welfare. Addiction is a painful and awful affliction, and no class or group of people is exempt.

Then to follow that post with another one about following Jesus is really too much. Is there some newly discovered, mean-spirited and hateful addendum to the Gospels that I don’t know about? Was there a mis-translation of “God is Love?”  1 John 4:8, if you want to look it up. I don’t remember a reference to Jesus hitting anyone on the head.  Is the Son of Man suddenly a member of a political party, or promoting a particular agenda? I could have sworn that the message of love and forgiveness is available to every human, regardless of race, creed or financial circumstances.

Americans in particular seem fond on invoking the Almighty’s favor and applying it to our favorite causes or passions. In the process, we shape God in our image. We seem to think that whether we are waging war or a football game, He is on OUR side. This never made any sense to me, although I understand the temptation. My theology doesn’t include a god who prefers blondes over brunettes or jerseys that are blue instead of orange. I can’t believe that certain people are excluded because of their race, nationality or lifestyle or because they face East to pray instead of West. And I don’t believe that our bombs are blessed.

Of course this is my perspective, and I will respect your right to express yours as well.  As a friend of mine would say, it’s all grist for the mill. And it’s what keeps the conversation, as well as life, interesting. I am happy to read your comments.


Lake Shore Chicago

There are certainly a lot of blessings of living in the Information Age. Seemingly endless bits of information stream without ceasing to us through all kinds of electronic gadgets.  It is possible to find your best friend in 8th grade as well as the definitions for terms that you didn’t have the time or presence of mind to ask your family doctor after your last checkup.

If you are wondering who starred in “Tin Cup” after losing a round of Trivial Pursuit, you can find it in seconds in your favorite search engine.  (It was Kevin Costner, by the way).  And if you lost the owner’s manual to your great aunt’s sewing machine, I’ll bet you can find it and buy another one online.

The other day when I went to the waiting room to bring a client back to my office, I noticed that of four people waiting for therapists, all four of them had their phones out and were busily texting.  I believe we could save money and trips to recycling by reducing the number of magazines we subscribe to.

It may seem great, but sometimes I wonder about the dark side of all this.  I don’t mean the prurient and criminal uses of it, although we could go on about that.  It seems that everything can be used for good or evil purposes and it pays to be wise about what you are putting out there about yourself, and what you are clicking on.

What I am talking about it the barrage of social media coming at us every day.

I can see some positive things coming out of this nearly instant contact with others for either social or business reasons.  It is great to hear from family members and far-flung friends.  And I can see positive business outcomes with it as well.

However here are some concerns about it that I have:

  • The virtual access can give the impression that texting, email, tweeting and writing on one’s wall is  intimate contact.  It is not a substitute for eye contact, physical closeness and the sound of someone’s voice.  Much is lost in the electronic translation of human conversation.
  • Paradoxically, the quick and easy contact sometimes prompts people to write stuff that really should be kept to oneself.  Couples have taken to smearing each other, turning their Facebook pages into a Jerry Springer show.  Also, I don’t want to read that you are going to be making memories with your Baby this weekend.  And I also don’t want the graphic details of your last bout of stomach flu.  I have had that myself and I remember it clearly enough.

  • I wonder if we are using phone texting as a way of avoiding real contact.  A young, upwardly mobile client was telling me about receiving text messages on her phone while she was at dinner with friends.  She got involved in a 15 minute exchange while her friends ate and conversed.  Besides being rude to those present, it is a way to not really be where you are.  She says that this is common behavior in her crowd.  Does this contribute to the relationship problems she is having?
  • Social media can be a big time suck.  Have you timed yourself lately?  Some of it may be worthwhile, but some of it is beyond me, I must confess.  I really don’t get “Farmville,” or the many other games, and why would I want to read someone else’s horoscope every day?  I have little interest in reading my own.
  • Notice that tending to all this information (reading and replying) can take up copious amounts of time that you might be better off working.  A writing coach suggested that before checking phone or email messages in the morning, that we would get much more accomplished if we did the writing work first.  Despite my initial resistance, I discovered that to be true.  It also puts it in perspective.  What may seem urgent at first loses its importance after waiting for several hours.

Like many things in life, accomplishing your goals requires that you develop an ability to question yourself and what is going on around you.  You get to decide whether the information coming at you is helpful or not.  And if participating in it is getting you where you want to go.