I feel like as a millenial, so much of my world and life is wrapped up in social media and the participation of working around the limitations and wonders of an online presence. So many complain that our generation is losing the ability to communicate with one another, because we’re buried in our technology. Songs are written about anti social behaviours. Violence and bullying is allowed to run rampant because every human and their dog can start a blog. People no longer invite each other with a slip of paper, rather it is a combination of 1s and 0s that allow people to know the when and where of celebration and gathering. Messages fly between apps, photos are edited and shared and somehow, it can feel like a person is just screaming into the void.
But what if we changed our outlook on social media? What if instead of seeing social media as an inherently bad place that should be abandoned for “real face to face communication”, we saw social media for exactly what it is, a tool.
Tools are useful and necessary to a productive and functioning society. When wielded incorrectly, they can cause hurt, harm and destruction, but when given structure, guidance and a genuine place, they can build ideas, relationships and homes for people who are on the outer. They give a voice to those who’s voices have been squashed and can bring community and connection to those who would typically shy away from social engagements.
I have been one of those humans who have benefitted from social media and the many different ways that I can connect to people. Whilst I have lived in regional and rural areas of Australia, Facebook has become a lifeline of connection to friends living in major cities. I have been able to celebrate with friends and family as they start new careers, get married, have children and start their lives in new meaningful ways. I have also been able to connect with people all over the world who suffer from the same conditions that I do and talk about our current medications, therapy options, share our dark and fear-filled moments and celebrate when someone has a success with their condition. Discord has allowed me to talk daily with people from all over the world, many whom I have built a bond with that I may never have had the chance to without the premise of a solid constant connection each day when I get home from work. I have made lifelong friendships without ever being physically in their space, but have shared some of my deepest and heaviest conversations with people I may never see face to face who I love dearly.
Additionally, social media allows people to constantly learn and grow through what they are reading and engaging with. Tumblr and Twitter have been vital in my growth of understanding of issues for First Nations people, people of colour, the disabled community, the LGBT community, other minority groups and to recognise that there is news that I miss, purely because of the bias in my own country’s reporting. I have also been able to discuss issues and ideas and learn and grow so much through blogs, emails, comments and images, and I don’t believe I would have been this understanding had I not encountered it on the internet. I’ve also been given a space to raise my voice on the issues I care about, something that may have just stayed between the few friends I see on a regular basis. How empowering would this be for people who have not traditionally had a voice or had access to communities of people who can love support and share with them?
I recognise that to learn to use social media can be a daunting and uphill battle for someone who is not a digital native. I can see that it could potentially be overwhelming for people who are confused or afraid of change. But the benefits of digital citizenship far outweigh the downfalls and I would encourage you, if you are afraid, to walk up to a digital native (and you will know them) and ask humbly your burning questions. For the digital natives who read this, I ask that you respond in a way that is respectful and loving to these people. They paved the way for our technology and allowed us to have access to learn and shape it the way we have.
At the end of this, I have some questions for you, dear reader. These are not necessarily something you need to send to me, but feel free to ask yourself these questions and reflect on your opinion and use of technology.
- How does your use of social media benefit your life?
- What are some of the negatives you have encountered?
- How could the use of social media empower someone in your life who is marginalised?
- Who don’t you see on social media? How can you help to bring them into the digital community?