Can I say something that most people don’t seem to want to these days? I really kind of love social media. I know we’re supposed to be skeptical of it, nervous about it, burdened by it, bored with it – and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to get involved in it in the first place. But now? I’m so grateful for its place in my life.
So often social media is presented as a barrier to “real” relationships with people – as if people choose to stay home with their laptops and smartphones rather than go out into the world to be physically present to the people in their lives. Maybe that’s how it works for some. But for me, social media has been more boon than barrier.
Facebook allows me to connect with “IRL” family and friends better than pretty much anything else I can imagine, save a utopian walking community in which everyone’s backyards abut each other. My family is big and busy and mostly spread from one end of a sprawling metropolitan area to the other. Even if we saw each other more frequently than we do (and we see each other pretty frequently by most families’ standards), there’s only so much in-person catching up I could do with my 70-odd closest relatives (not exaggerating – I counted) given my responsibility for keeping track of these four relatives:
And then there are the family members who live great distances from us. Because of Facebook, I know that my two little cousins in Maine are learning the art of beekeeping. I know that they’ve resumed their riding lessons and that they just swam in the lake for the first time this season. I get to cheer my cousin and his wife in San Diego as they run their (very intimidating and impressive to me) marathons and half-marathons. I get to watch my teenage and twenty-something cousins in St. Louis and Chicago and Nashville go off to proms and colleges and fall in love.
I get to know new friends more quickly and I get to know old friends better. I get to enjoy playdates where my girlfriends and I don’t feel like strangers from postponing a half-dozen times because somebody is always getting sick.
Social media also enables me to be “myself” better than any situation I can imagine. (Even my fantasy utopian communities have their limitations.) Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I do limit it to the three) allow me to indulge in a custom mix of my favorite interests, values, and personalities – a cocktail of politics and history and faith, of smart/witty/wise/idealistic/self-deprecating Catholic writers, of home-making and child-rearing and beauty found in the ordinary.
They allow me to connect with people who share those interests and values, to make friendships that transcend geography.
Social media gives me opportunities to understand people and to love them.
On a daily basis, it presents me with more diversity and a wider range of experiences and ideas than I would ever bump up against in my physical community. It helps me put myself in someone else’s shoes; it makes obvious to me the common threads that run through families and communities that seem so different.
Social media allows me to nurture a fondness, a tenderness, not just for my family and friends, but also for the loved ones of those I’ve loved somewhere along the way. (You should see the piercing blue eyes of my college roommate’s little girl and the deep brown eyes of my high school friend’s little boy. You should read the hilarious kid quotes. You should hear how beautifully my friends love their spouses, their siblings, their children, their parents.)
Social media allows me to feel my role in the Body of Christ, praying for and supporting those in need, working with others to accompany people through their trials.
Are there problems with social media and the role it has come to play in our lives? Of course there are. There are problems with just about every way in which we humans come together. When engaging in social media, we should hold to the same principles we (hopefully) do in other human interactions: be kind, consider where others are coming from, watch what you say, consider your own disposition, recognize that the world is full of people who are like and unlike you in a million important and not-so-important ways. Love. Enjoy the people you encounter. Accept the light they bring to your life and offer a little in return.