Social networking isn’t for everyone, but it’s now such a massive part of all our lives, whether we embrace or reject the notion, that it can no longer be ignored. But are social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ a force for good or evil? As with most questions there are multiple angles to approach this quandary from.
Having already looked at the negative impact of social networking sites on society, I thought it only fair to redress the balance. Every ying has its yang, after all. Using the previous article as a loose template it’s clear to see that what some people would conceive as negatives can also be positives. I guess there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the effect social networks are having on us all in this day and age.
It has never been easier to make friends than it is right now, mainly thanks to social networking sites. Just a few decades ago it was pretty tough to connect with people, unless you were the overly outgoing type able to make conversation with anyone at a party. The rise of mobile phones helped change this, connecting people in a new way, but then social networks sprang up and the whole idea of friendship changed once more and for ever.
It’s entirely possible to have hundreds of friends on Facebook. They may not be friends you know on a personal level and spend time with in the real world on a weekly basis. But they’re friends nevertheless. There are several people I consider friends who I have never met – indeed, I may never meet them – but that doesn’t lessen the connection we have thanks to social networks.
Social networking sites can help you make and keep friends.
Each of us spends a little too long talking about ourselves on social networking sites. Which is perfectly natural. We’re sharing our lives – the ups and downs, the twists and turns – with people we think will care. They generally do care, and will tell you so. They will listen to what you have to say, and help you deal with any problems you may be facing. If this isn’t the case then you may want to find new friends.
The point is that by all of us sharing our experiences, both good and bad, on social networking sites, we’re able to empathize with each other. A friend may have gone through a similar ordeal that you now are, and they will be able to inform you how they got through it. You’ll also be able to see for yourself that they made it out the other side, that this issue didn’t derail them, and they’re perhaps better for the experience.
Social networking sites can act as a kind of group therapy session.
Our time is being stretched thinner and thinner by work and family commitments, but social networking sites offer a chance to communicate in a speedy and efficient manner. Writing an update for Twitter takes all of 20 seconds, and with cross-posting over other social networks switched on, that update reaches everyone you want it to reach (and probably more besides) in an instant.
One of the reasons I dislike making phone calls is the unnecessary banter they necessitate. You can’t just say what you want to say and then hang up. Doing so is seen as downright rude. Instead you have to swap pleasantries before saying what you want to say, and then make swap more pleasantries before the conversation comes to a natural conclusion.
Social networking sites allow you to live a life unhindered by small talk.
In Touch With The World
It isn’t just your inner circle of close friends and even closer family members that social networking sites allow you to communicate with easily and effectively, either. They open the world up to you, making it a smaller place than it has ever been before. So much so that I actually haven’t a clue where many of my contacts reside. When it comes to social networks everyone is equal, regardless of location.
Family living abroad can be kept abreast of the latest happenings in your world as quickly as those living next door. Friends who you haven’t seen since school, and who have since moved away, are able to keep in touch. Location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla emphasize your location but social networking as a whole means it has become a lot less important.
Social networking sites have made the world a smaller place. And then some.
There is no doubting that social networking sites can lead to the breaking up of relationships. But there is another side to the tale, which is that people are moving onto other, perhaps better, relationships at the same time. Social networks can put you (back) in touch with those you have lots in common with, and that common ground is often the starting point for long-lasting relationships.
As painful as break-ups can be, they can sometimes be the right thing for all concerned. What’s to say that the new relationship, founded on the steps of Facebook, isn’t THE one that will last? Even if it doesn’t turn into a spectacular coupling, it could be the friendship that is needed at the time. Which has to be a positive.
Social networking sites can help foster friendships and perhaps more besides.
Finding Common Ground In An Open Society
As previously mentioned, social networking sites can help you find people you share interests with. Facebook, for example, asks you to list who and what you are into right from the start, meaning common ground with others is much easier to find. On Twitter you will follow those who have something to say that you’re interested in, making connections with like-minded individuals much easier than is possible offline.
This does require sharing information, and giving up a certain amount of privacy in order to do so. Which is enough for some people to reject social networking outright. Keeping key personal information private is necessary, but likes and dislikes, interests and obsessions, thought and views, isn’t. And actually contributes to an open society.
Social networking sites make fitting in easier, as long as you open up a little.
As with most things in life there are positive and negative sides to social networking, both of which we have now explored. My ultimate belief is that when done in moderation, with checks and balances on how younger people in particular are using them, and with a firm grasp being kept on reality at all time, social networking sites are neither evil or a Godsend. They’re somewhere in between.
Does this make you feel better about social networking sites and the effect they could be having on society? Or will you remain wary in spite of these examples of the positive impact of social networking sites on society? Whatever your thoughts on the subject, we’d like to hear them in the comments section below.
Image Credits: Luc Legay, Marion Doss, The Shopping Sherpa, Robert Bejil, Windell Oskay, Katie Tegtmeyer, Scott Cutler