The debate rages on…
This is a debate which will, I suspect, rage on for years and years. Most of us use social media in one form or another, both personally and professionally; as a chatty, online stream of consciousness diary or as a means of promoting our business, as a way of staying in touch with friends in far-flung places or as a platform to rant about the ideological issues of the day. It can be a fun means of engagement by presenting us with a way to share our photos and organise nights out with our friends, but it can also bombard us with adverts and trivia that don’t interest us at all. To a disabled person or one with restricted mobility, it can be a lifeline to the outside world. In short, social media can be many different things to many different people.
Even within the confines of my own family, we all have different uses for social media. I use it to promote my business and to connect with potential new clients, in a thought-provoking and engaging way. My husband uses it somewhat grudgingly, to keep up with what’s happening in the local music scene and to stay in touch with family and friends abroad. My daughter chats with her friends, arranging shopping trips and sleepovers and my son largely ignores it in his determination to leave as small a digital footprint as possible, although he chats with his friends through the online games he plays.
But does it serve its purpose, whatever that might be? Well, from my perspective, it certainly does. I encourage my clients to use any and all channels to help increase their profile and their reach, and it undoubtedly works, both for them and for me personally. But if my husband wants to stay in touch with his family, in all honesty, he’d probably be better off picking up the phone. And there is wisdom in the caution of my son’s approach, as we’ve all heard stories of people being turned down for jobs and MPs running into trouble because of some forgotten throwaway comment they might have made on Twitter or Facebook in the heat of a late-night moment, several months/years previously.
A price worth paying?
So where does data protection and the Cambridge Analytica scandal come into all of this? Clearly, this raises many questions including “Is the harvesting and use of our data a price worth paying for the benefit of being able to be permanently connected with one another?” “Have we blurred the lines between keeping parts of our lives private and sharing?” “Are we no longer capable of connecting via the time-honoured, tried and true method of face-to-face conversation?” “Are we slaves to the machines?”
However, you may feel about social media, one thing is for sure – it’s not going away. So my feeling is that the best we can do is to embrace it, and each endeavour to find our own happy medium, obviously avoiding becoming dependent on the digital world, which I appreciate is getting harder and harder. I have read that Simon Cowell stopped using his smartphone months ago and is all the happier for it. But I wonder if his army of assistants, who presumably are picking up the slack (because, as far as I know, he’s not living on a desert island and continues to run his business) is any happier? I suspect not, that they are his filter system, ensuring that the important messages still get through and out.
There are times when I too would quite like to have a filter system, and have been known to use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on my phone and use ‘digital sunset’ in an effort to instil some boundaries, but, in truth, although occasionally I can find it intrusive and time-consuming, I do enjoy using social media, and reaching out and connecting with people all over the world with similar interests. I think I’ve found my happy medium, at least for the moment. Provide benefit for my followers, ignore what doesn’t interest me and engage with what does. Simple as that, really.
Post with purpose…
By now, it’s probably clear where I stand in the debate. Is social media a force for good, or a blight? Depending on your perspective, it’s probably a bit of both, but I like to take a positive outlook on life, so I’m leaning more towards force for good. After all, as my husband would say (and he is usually rather blunter in his opinions than me), “If you don’t like it, don’t use it”. But if you do use it, my advice would be to post with purpose. Use it sensibly and selectively, keep it friendly and timely, try to provide value for your followers and obviously don’t say or post anything that’s likely to come back and haunt you at a later date. And don’t be afraid to go analogue and pick up the phone or, even better, meet up face-to-face. Because by meeting up with people and connecting with them on a personal level ensures that we broaden our own humanity as well as building a more meaningful relationship with others. Everybody likes to hear a friendly voice, see a friendly face and there really is no substitute for good old-fashioned real-time in-person communication.
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