Social media: Bringing us together or pulling us apart?

One of the great promises of social media is that it connects us with our friends and those closest to us. Using it, we can broadcast important events that take place in our lives, we can tell others what we’re doing at any and all times of the day, we can share pictures, we can re-establish friendships with those we’ve lost touch with, and we can stay in touch with those where distance separates us.

On the surface, it sounds great. By doing these things, social media should be bringing us together. It should be making us closer with our good friends, keeping us in touch with those far away, and reconnecting us with those we’ve lost touch with.

I would contend that the promise is not translating into reality. I would argue that social media isn’t having the effect of bringing us together but instead is pulling us apart.

Being “in the know” vs. Being oblivious

One of my favorite blogs, A Learning a Day, wrote a great piece on the value of being “in the know” versus being oblivious. As he describes it, being “in the know” means having all the news about what’s going on around us. Where that used to be managed by a few connectors in every community, now there are feeds that do that for us.

But as he points out, there is value in being oblivious. In his words, “…events matter little in the long run. And, a mind overwhelmed by absorbing and keeping track of events has little time in dwell in ideas.” More importantly, when we’re not “in the know” and always “up to date” on what’s going on around us, there is value in the time we spend with friends. Again, as he puts it:

Community gatherings become old-style fun again. And, besides, this path may just be comparison-free, mindful, and happy.

Increasing the value of time with others

I’m not on social media. Sure, it would keep me up to date on everyone’s events and activities, but what would I lose in the process? When I get together with friends, what would we talk about if I already know everything.

I value my time with others. It’s a chance to catch up on what’s happened, to share stories. I get to experience the emotion, see the reactions, and build a connection, a common bond of shared experience.

When we spend all of our time on social media, our lives can become like one of my favorite YouTube videos, “I Forgot My Phone” (embedded below). It’s a bit over the top for dramatic effect, but it’s not that far off-base. It shows how people act when they already know everything that’s happening with their friends. Instead of enjoying the moment and connection, we’re off on our phones looking for the next interesting thing since what’s right in front of our faces isn’t.

Less is more

When we rely on social media, we think we are “in the know” about what are friends are doing. We rely on status updates we share to keep us connected. Is this really a true reflection of what’s going on in our lives? And if we’ve already shared everything on social media, what’s left to talk about when we do get together with someone. Could it be the reason why we end up reaching for our phones, so we can find out if there’s something more interesting than what’s going on right in front of us?

Personally, I think we should be using social media less. Instead of relying on these virtual connections to maintain our friendships, we should be making the effort to really get to know our friends. Spend time together with them over lunch, grab a coffee, talk with them on the phone.

Social media does have a purpose, but that purpose shouldn’t be a replacement for spending our most valuable resource, our time, with those closest to us to connect, share, and build relationships. Less is often more, and in this case, less social media will result in more opportunities to bring us together, closer to those we cherish.

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