I was minding my own business yesterday on Facebook when I found out some surprising information–my best friend from high school had gotten married. Needless to say, I was happy for him. For as long as I have known him, he has been the type of person who just wanted to settle down and become a family man. It felt good to know that his dream finally came true.
Although I definitely would like to congratulate my friend on his nuptials, that is not the point of this particular post. In spite of my efforts to feel joy for my friend and his lovely wife, their method of alerting people of their relationship in general has made me begin to question the role of social media in the dissemination of sensitive information. Social media have done a lot of good. Without Facebook and Twitter, I would have a much harder time keeping up with the changes in my friends’ lives. At the same time, a part of me misses the days when keeping up with people took a bit more effort.
These days, there is a pretty thin line between close friend and social network stalker. I remember hanging out with my frat brother and two of our sorors in Vegas a few months ago. Much to his surprise, one of the sorors was able to give my frat brother a great amount of detail about his life all because she had checked out his academic information and photo albums on Facebook. Since then, he and I have both become a bit more cognizant of how much information we put out there about ourselves. After all, if a soror who meant no harm could piece together our lives like that, I can only imagine what kind of damage someone with ill intentions could do (and I would rather not have anyone to attempt to manipulate me with my own story again.) Nonetheless, many people still feel the need to share everything.
The dissemination of information via social networks also makes it much easier for misunderstandings to occur. A little over a month ago, I wrote a post about feeling like I was getting old. In the post, I made a playful reference to helping to plan my cousin’s fiance’s bachelor party. Within hours of that posting, my playful reference somehow mushroomed into a horrible series of confrontations rivaling the series of confrontations that led me to shut down my prior online magazine over five years ago except that this time the conflict involved both my church and my family. A simple face-to-face conversation could have resolved the conflict in an amicable manner. It didn’t happen though. Instead, a lot of Facebook messages and texts were sent that helped things get much worse before any sort of resolution came about. Unfortunately, as a trip to any news website will show, many people feel extremely comfortable saying sensitive and often horrible things via social media that they would never say in person.
In the end, I am still thankful for the advent of social media. I have friends from who are all over the country and the use of social media makes it possible for us to keep in touch in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we are losing out on the face-to-face communication that is so integral to the human experience. Technology can never be a substitute for that.