Learning to Drive Social Media

Let’s just admit it, social media is pretty dang cool. I’ve met some of my favorite people because of that little smart phone. Social media both provides a way to connect and a reason to create. It is both a network and a stage.

It’s kinda silly to demonize social media. That’s like blaming a car for you driving too fast. We have laws limiting how fast you can drive, and yet we engineer some rockets on four wheels that can triple or quadruple the legal speed. Just because you can drive a car 200 mph doesn’t mean that you should drive that fast, at least not in most situations. It’s an illusion to even think that would be an option. You can’t go 200 mph in mid day traffic. In reality, the moments when it would be possible to push the performance of a high speed vehicle to its limits would be few and close to none.

The same is true with social media. We don’t need to be on it all the time. The point is to learn how to use it effectively. That means learning how to respect certain limits. We live in a world where almost everyone can go from 0 to 100 real quick, online. If as many people had sportscars as have access to social media, the roads would be a daily blood bath. At the current moment, our technological power outmatches our experience and responsibility with the tech. Since we don’t want to regulate the Internet, we need to learn to govern our own behavior, to set limits for ourselves.

Part of the problem is that social media is such an integrated part of our lives. One funny paradox of social media shows up ever time people feel the need to announce that social media is destroying our culture, and they do so on social media with the added message that they will be taking a break from social media only to find out a week later that they are back on social media, this time promoting something. It’s like we are trying to get out of our own skins. 

We have to remember that social media is a set of tools. Because of their social aspect, we can experience them with a variety of emotions. They are tools that are closely connected with our social lives. Back to the example of a car, it is a vehicle, a tool of transportation, but it is also psychologically loaded with meaning. Remember way back when before social media, when people would cruise their cars up and down some small town Main Street listening to music. I mean, I don’t remember it. It’s way before my time, but that is how it is portrayed in movies and in stories from your favorite boomers. 

The car was an invention of transportation that took on a whole array of emotional meanings and motivations. It became symbolic of so many things in U.S. lifestyle. Social media has that aspect to it as well. The incidental features, those not designed into the tech, might be the most powerful ones. It is a tool of communication, but it becomes a source of entertainment, a means of promotion, an industry of influence.

As influential as cars have been in American culture, social media is exponentially greater due to the lack of limits. When people would cruise their cars to show off and to see other people, presumably there were time limits. People weren’t doing it around the clock. With social media there is a potential to participate at any moment of the day. It is a 24 hrs smorgasbord of content.

Another major difference is economic. The more you use a car the more it costs. This has a natural limiting effect. With social media, there is no perceived cost. The apps are free, once you have paid for the phone and internet you have basically unlimited use. It is the lack of boundaries that makes social media potentially so harmful to us. We imagine it is free, but it is our time that we are investing and that is our most valuable asset.

Eventually, we will learn how to do social media safely and constructively as a culture. For now, it is possible to learn how to govern your own use of social media without abandoning it altogether. You just need to think of it as the powerful technology that it is. If you respect it at least as much as you respect driving on the freeway, then you can safely use the media without it using you. 

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