On social media … or “I got an Instagram and am sleep deprived” …

Even though I consider myself a technically inclined individual, and despite the fact that I spend a great deal of my time on the internet for work (the one that pays, and the one that doesn’t), I’m actually pretty stubborn when it comes to trying new things.

I had a Facebook back when it was still “invite only”, but I didn’t actually use it until two years later, when I was graduating and suddenly it was the only way to get in touch with my soon-to-be roommates. Sadly, I thought YouTube was lame when it first started, and now I watch all the shows that started back then, and wish someone had explained to me what a big deal it would be in just a couple years time. I’m still trying to figure out how the hell to use Instagram (I only just signed up this morning). That said, I think I feel pretty safe saying that “social media” is here to stay … probably.

People, especially people who are my parents’ age and older, criticize things like Twitter and Facebook and Youtube for shortening our attention spans and contributing to the general vanity of our generation. Maybe they’re right. Market research has shown that if you can’t hook people in the first few seconds of a video, or in the first sentence of an article (though the headline is better), they’ll be gone almost instantly. There’s always something better, flashier, funnier, cuter, and less confusing.

But I would argue that, while it may seem that today’s young people are constantly looking for attention, posting photos of themselves, vlogging, blogging, and constantly updating the world on their eating habits, the actual vanity hasn’t increased at all. We haven’t made teenagers attention hungry, we’ve just provided them with a brand new outlet to feed that hunger. What they used to get from smaller peer groups in school, they now get from a much larger group on the internet, and the same can be said about the other side of the coin. The bullies and mean girls have a much bigger playground on which to run their empire.

But I’m not here to talk about bullying. That’s an entirely different conversation.

I’m actually here to talk about conversation itself; the global conversation that social media allows many of us to engage in on a regular basis. Social media has allowed for so many advancements and achievements in social justice, citizen journalism, and public awareness, that I honestly believe the pros vastly outweigh the cons. Revolutions are tweeted, Youtubed, and Instagramed, debates happen in an instant, people fall in love across continents, and friendships and partnerships are made across the language and cultural barrier. None of these things would be possible if the world had remained the way it was just ten years ago. I owe a great deal of my personal growth over that time to my ability to discuss social, political, and cultural issues with friends near and far (and yes, that includes the vain, the superficial, and the strange), and I think the same can be said for many others.

It’s strange to think that, at the same time it feels our physical borders are becoming more defined (at least here in the US), our technological borders are fading. My hope is that one day, both will disappear, and we will no longer talk about how “small” the world is, but rather, how big and beautiful and connected it is.