Saturday, March 23, 2013

Social media-- good or bad?

Almost two years ago, when I began to think about bringing out all my stories onto eReaders, editing reminded me of something about our culture. Communication had changed so totally that it required major revamps if I wanted the stories to be set in today. 

Pay phones-- virtually a thing of the past. Cell phones-- total necessity. Computers-- who can live without them. VCR is now DVD and in some of my books, even that hadn't been in homes. This all illustrates one advantage of writing historical novels-- possible technologies of the time don't change at least not if you researched it well to start.

April 2008 Seal Rock

What has triggered this thinking is what happened in Steubenville, Ohio. If you followed it, you know the details, if not, I won't go into them as they are pretty unpleasant. The part that relates to what I'm thinking is how social media played a role as it has in so many happenings especially with youth but also oldsters.

Kids today simply don't know the same world I, or even my kids, did growing up. Today, youth are connected and online, some from early childhood. Their every move is recorded and passed onto friends and family in a way that past parents could only dream of doing. As soon as they are old enough, they have cell phones and text their friends to the point they are never disconnected from their social network. How will this impact the emotional maturing of these kids?


The rape in Steubenville was compounded by tweets and instagram photos of the crime while those not connected directly to it watched and did nothing. Would the young men have even done what they did if they had not been drunk themselves and then egged on? We know the gang mentality of the young where murders have been committed, lots of kids knew, and protected the crime through some kind of group loyalty or psychoses. This rape though was discovered and its damage compounded by social media that enabled voyeurism and guilt by association (some of whom may find there is a criminal penalty to be paid).

 May 2009 Seal Rock

I worry about the impact on kids who are never disconnected from electronic media, but adults aren't immune to the influence. Some grew up in a world where it was all they knew. Some, like my generation, came to it after years of other methods. For all the good social media can do, there is a downside.

Lately I've seen several sites writing about hurt feelings from words that were only possible because of blogs, Facebook, or other social sites.  People forget that everything they say here, it all is out there and can be found by others. Some give intimate information on their lives that maybe they won't later want to have available to the world-- but it will be. 

Social media has a particular tendency to encourage more sharing of things that at one time would have been unthinkable to tell strangers-- and yet that's exactly what is happening. Old folks are as prone to this as kids.

We can now publish books, put pictures of ourselves online with no censorship at all in some places. Facebook does censor but still people in their underwear to strangers? Seriously? In some ways we can know more about strangers than we do our neighbors but do we really? How much of what we read is invented? 

December 2011 Seal Rock

We can be dragged into voyeurism ourselves if we don't have a strong sense of values that says-- I won't read or look at that. Whoa, those words went too far for me! That photo, is it what I think it is, and instead of staying and salivating, shutting down the site. 

When I began on the internet, I was in a group site where you could have private chats but also share in designated rooms. I was chatting with a guy who was flirting or trying to with me, but he also was watching something he told me I should go see. In one of the 'rooms' a couple had put up a link to their webcam where they were making love. The guy thought it was great. I thought it was wrong for them and anybody who viewed it. I didn't want to be part of encouraging this couple to degrade themselves from the egging on of others. He saw nothing wrong with it. The twenty year age difference between us might have explained part of that different way we saw it.

People build friendships through the Internet, and I am the first to say it can be done. I have met people this way who became real time friends. I also know those who were defrauded by people who created identities aimed for that purpose. Some do it out of loneliness but others are grifters who make money off the loneliness of others.

My main thought here is how easily people say mean things, things they'd never say to someone in person because the internet makes meanness easy. It makes possible to encourage someone who is degrading themselves or others, an act that person would never do in person. 

To many people the internet is an alternate reality, a different level of relationship which can become a trap. It is a fact in our world where we do our business online, learn the news, talk to friends, share our experiences. That genii is out of the bottle, but it does take a sense of ethics to use it wisely for ourselves, not become part of things that are wrong because they don't seem real-- not make it the center of our lives.

Especially for the younger generation, it is a constant battle to stay connected enough without it becoming crippling to their physical reality-- or as happened in Steubenville, get them into serious trouble.

March 2013 Seal Rock

And for oldsters, I think it's just good to keep it in perspective. Use it, don't let it use us. Understand that what we write, either in a blog or comments, goes beyond the immediate and can be found for years to come. Nothing out there is really private to those who know how to hack.

Photos are the ones I mentioned of four long time friends at a vacation spot we have enjoyed over the last five years. Sometime I will take the time to find the photos of us through the years-- we go way back-- although not quite to childhood. I came across a few of them when looking for petroglyph photos. Hard to believe it's even us ;). Today we use social media as this couple are the only ones with whom I chat  now using Skype (with MSN messenger going down). We could use the phone, do get together now and then, but we enjoy the convenience of typing, connecting and onward to our days. The internet isn't a bad thing. Social media isn't harmful unless we lose control of it.

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13 comments:

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Sometimes when I think about how invasive the social media can be---And is---I find it rather frightening. Big Brother IS watching us and then there are all the little brothers who are commenting anonymously in such mean-spirited ways....What you say is so true, Rain....The Internet is a Blessing in so very many ways---And a real curse in others. What I don't understand is how and why people have lost their moral compass, if, indeed, they ever had one. Steubenville---This Is Horrendous! Horribly horribly horrendous, and the ramifications of all that happened there says to me, we have truly lost our way....there was no humanity involved in what happened there---NONE, at all. How could this be? It is beyond all understanding, in my view.

I love seeing the pictures of the four of you over these last years....How very precious is your friendship. May it continue for many many years to come....!

Taradharma said...

I often thank the heavens that there was no social media when I was a teenager -- oh the mistakes and misuse I could have been a part of. Youth are often indiscreet.

Young folks now may have their Facebook pages looked at my prospective employers -- they don't think of this when posting.

It's a great blessing for sure, but as with most things there is the dark side.

robin andrea said...

I am also glad that I did not come of age in the time of social media. While it does help provide some strange sense of community, it can never be a replacement for what we really need in our lives-- real community and a sense of belonging to something.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Rain, I enjoy chatting and typing on Skipe usually just with you but I enjoyed even more our morning coffee many years ago when we lived closer. I would go away charged with energy to do my paintings. Back then I was reading more which enriched our times together. Then for many years our letters were more meaningful yet as we were in our motherhood years. Today it is just the convenience of Skipe and the fact that you are always ready to take a break from your research or writing. We can show each other things we have seen or have posted on the internet. Talk about our plans. Our conversations makes me think of what I could write about my art. It does replace interacting as often with my local art community. I have become more global with communications with artists all over the world. I hope to be more a part of Albany artist's endeavors to get their art seen some day soon though. This month the Albany Painting Enthusiasts have an exhibit at Linn Benton Community College
's main campus. My five paintings look good in their gallery space, only finding parking is difficult and there isn't a convenient elevator. Weekends the gallery is closed. There is talk in Albany of having a co-op gallery in town, I want to support it without being a member. I expect to be traveling too much plus I am not sure my art would compliment the many fine works of other artists. My last experience with co-ops was in a gallery too small for the almost mural size I was painting at the time.

Anonymous said...


There are different topics worthy of discussion here. The behavior towards the young woman is something that happens worldwide. The United Nations has a campaign called Unite to End Violence Against Women. -- Julie

Rain Trueax said...

Yes, I've found the Internet to be a very good tool and way to communicate but it does have the other side where it can take up too much time. I try to find a balance and feel now I have.

Hattie said...

It's a learning experience. This new kind of social space takes getting used to.

Rain Trueax said...

My main concern is for the kids. Oldsters might make mistakes there but they will recognize it and revamp what they do. The kids though are developing and if they are never disconnected, if they lose a sense of real values because the internet seems so loose, what will that mean as they get older? I don't know.

Mike McLaren said...

Steubenville, Ohio, is an example, in my mind, of where society is headed. And I don't think just social media is the culprit. I cannot believe the filthy games our kids (and oldesters) are playing on their phones. Television is no better. I had the misfortune to see several shows while working out the gym, and I cut my workout short just to get away from the TV.

And then there's food. What we eat is what our bodies become... and right now society is eating far too much synthesized crap that is undoubtedly atrophying a lot of human brains.

It's hard to be a compassionate person when everything we do dehumanizes us. Zombies? We're getting there. I swear I've seen some. Steubenville, Ohio, seems to be filled with them.

Dick said...

I expect that I will soon have to start a Facebook account in order to better stay in touch with my kids who do not live in the same town that I do. But I have also been told that an account there can be opened where I control who does and does not have the ability to look at it. That sounds to me like the way I will want to go.

Rain Trueax said...

That's how mine is, Dick. I only allow friends to see my posts not friends of friends. I leave open that anybody can find me there by my profile but the rest is private. The reason for not friends of friends is many have hundreds on their 'friend' list but it's about game playing and they don't know those people at all. You can turn down anyone who requests you add them. I don't think it's as bad to control as some think; but it's good to check now and then to be sure your choices are still there.

Rain Trueax said...

Diane, that was an important time to me too. I've had friends like that a few times in my life, that lived close enough that we could get together easily. It's the best when that person is also creative and has no desire to be together so much that it interferes with either of us doing the work-- that a non-creative person often doesn't understand. I've learned to take such times as precious because they aren't always going to be there.

Rain Trueax said...

And Mike, I agree with you on your post regarding where we are heading. I think meaningless TV or that which people think is real (loosely called reality shows) and numbs them to what real reality is like. I know mankind has had such crazily violent periods in history. I just wish we had learned from them as we are in another dehumanizing time.

My father said before he died in 1980 that he saw us heading toward a time of dehumanizing where there would be have-nots attacking the haves. This is just so crazy that there's no logic to it but it's a mentality that devalues anyone's life but our own. I think it's how the multibillionaires get also as they have no compassion for anybody but themselves. It's totally weird to me.