On any given day, you can find multiple articles decrying the way the modern American uses technology and social media. It has made us narcissists. It has destroyed our conversation skills. It is turning people into zombies. It is causing people to be depressed because they are comparing their lives too much. It has ruined our attention spans. We have all this information at our fingertips, and we use it to post pictures of brunch and watch videos of cats. And on and on and on.
And sure, social media and technology may be factors that contribute to some of the ills in our society. But ultimately, they are tools. And tools are never inherently good or inherently evil. A hammer can be used to create or to destroy. It is up to people using the tools to use them well.
Since there was such a thing as “social media,” I have been a part of it. In high school, most of my friends were from church and not from school, so I spent afternoons on AOL instant messenger talking to them (and vastly improving my typing speed). Senior year of high school I created a livejournal which gave me a safe place to process my emotions and deal with my depression diagnosis. During my freshman year in college, Facebook was just getting started and I was one of the first people at UNT to join. It allowed me to keep in touch with friends who had gone to other schools in a time that was very lonely and very difficult for me.
Did I sometimes use AIM as a way to avoid homework? Sure. Did it make me less able to talk to my friends face-to-face? No. The conversation just continued from wherever it left off. Did I use Facebook to procrastinate in college? Absolutely. Did it destroy my ability to engage in my classes and complete my work? No.
Last night, a young woman posted what read as a suicide note on her Tumblr. People who follow her, but have never met her, reached out to their own followers to see if there was anyone who knew her in real life and could check in on her. Complete strangers from all over the world sent her encouraging messages and started following her blog. This morning, she posted that those messages and encouragements had literally saved her life. Simple words on a screen were enough to make her pause and rethink her decision. They gave her the strength to fight her depression for one more minute, one more hour, one more day.
I’m sure there are cynics out there who will say that she was just looking for attention. And you can believe that, if you want. But I know what it feels like to gain comfort from the kind words of strangers. For those of us who struggle with in-person social interactions, who keenly feel the weight of unspoken expectations that go along with those interactions, who feel like we don’t always quite fit in with the people around us in “real life”, social media can provide a safe place full of like-minded people.
Social media has enabled me to keep in touch with friends in a way that would never have been possible before. It has exposed me to new ideas that I never would have considered. It has challenged me to learn and grow in difficult and surprising ways. It has introduced me to new types of media and new sources of entertainment that have enriched my life. It has allowed me to connect with more fantastic people than I ever could have imagined without it.
Social media is a tool. Use it to interact with people who encourage you, who challenge you, who teach you, who show you kindness, who speak truth to you, who give life. Use it to encourage others, to challenge others, to teach others, to show kindness to others, to speak truth to others, to give life.
And maybe occasionally to Instagram a picture of your pet or your lunch. Because, hey, who doesn’t love a cute cat picture every now and then?