Is Social Media Helping or Hurting Your Relationships?
As Charles Dickens so famously wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that about social media. We’ve all had a good laugh at the latest memes (cue Infinity War), memes that creatively talk about a life situation with an image that captures it perfectly, like the one that says, “You can’t be broke if you don’t check your bank account” and has the guy smiling, looking at the camera, and pointing to his head, and so much more. I think it’s also safe to assume that we’ve all seen things posted that make our eyes roll back so far they disappear into our heads, ignite a small brushfire of frustration that grows, and more. What then is actually happening through social media? Does it help or hurt relationships?
First we have to ask, what really happens in relationships of any kind? Let’s break it down: being known by another person, knowing them, frustration, joy, time, fun, support, food, laughter, tears, misunderstanding, and so on. What is a way to summarize all of that? Life. Our lives are filled with all that’s mentioned. The best sort of life is shared with others.
I grew up in rural Tennessee. I have vivid memories of playing in the woods and playing hide and seek and video games, getting in an argument over basketball, crying when a good friend moved away, and attempting to be romantic as a 16- to 17-year-old during fall when the trees were brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows (key word: attempting). There is also plenty to pull from that I’m not particularly thankful for or proud of—hurtful things that happened to me, or came about from my own actions, or some combination of the two. But, as the saying goes, “that’s life.” Yeah. It is. It’s shared in the complexity of all that happens to, around, and through us. How does social media fit into this, though, and why another article about social media?
Take a few minutes to just observe on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). What do you see? I see political opinions, life announcements, requests for help (prayer, recommendations), ads, grief, articles, and photos of people, places, food, and of course pets. What is perhaps a way to summarize that? Life. Maybe it’s filtered, quite literally. Or perhaps it’s a little too unfiltered in some cases. It’s for that reason we need constant reflection about social media engagement. Life is always happening. Social media becomes a minor reflection of the ongoing complexity of life, so it is another area where we can practice the love, justice, and mercy of God.
One nuance of social media, however, is that while we have some sort of control about who we’re friends with and what others see, when we post something, whatever it is, we’re making it available to all those people at the same time. It’s taking something we’re thinking about and experiencing, and literally sharing it with others at a much faster and broader rate. Have you ever been in the middle of experiencing something, posted about it right away, and had a person from middle school you forgot you’re friends with comment? Or a random person with 10 followers on Twitter comment? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s also the heart of it though, isn’t it? Sharing it with others. And experiencing the joy (and frustration) of others sharing.
So does it help, or hurt? It can be wonderful. And damaging. “The best and worst of times.” As you go about life and the sharing of it on social media, here are 10 tips and questions, possibly for your own sanity, to do it well.
Pinpoint the possible functions and limitations of different social media platforms. What do you observe people sharing, and what’s happening between friends? Always keep in mind how public and broad posts are, given the nature of social media.
Hold observations from number one loosely. It is simply a fact that we do not know all of what someone means or is experiencing, or who they are completely from any given post/comment.
Locate yourself. What are you experiencing? What are you hoping for and desiring as you share?
Discern the intersection of the functions and limitations of different platforms, those in it, and yourself. Always remember that others are not you, and they’re just as complex as you. Misunderstanding, joy, and frustration are givens at any level of relationship.
Be as honest as you’re comfortable in sharing. Try to be clear, and recognize how misunderstanding can still happen.
Be curious and/or affirming of others in humility: “I see you said [this]. I understand that to mean [this], and I’d like to know more about what you mean,” or, “Wow! This is so great! I really appreciate [this].”
Grace. For yourself and others. We’ve all said or done something we use the hand-covering-the-face emoji for—in other words, things we sort of cringe at later or wish we had done differently. Give and receive grace for yourself while honestly admitting what action was hurtful. Do the same for others in your interactions with them.
Integrate things you see from people on social media with in-person interaction. It’s a tool to connect with others more! Use it as such.
There are times when social media will just feel like too much, even after all the previous steps. Discern if the relationship with others should continue in the way it’s occurring. You have the freedom, as others do, to step away from the relationship.
Have fun! Share life! Be known and know others . . . and be present in all that that brings.