Social Media Should Not Replace In Person Communication

Like many things, social media has its pluses and minuses.
I suspect I’m like many when I say I enjoy Facebook for the convenience of being able to stay in touch with a wide variety of friends and family that I wouldn’t have been able to without the ease of social media.
From past work colleagues and classmates to neighbors and far flung family, Facebook enables me to catch glimpses of their lives and to share snippets of mine (mostly dog pics). It makes me feel at least nominally connected to people I care about but in all honesty would never have time to call, take to lunch or visit. It also enabled me to discover a fantastic song called “Debris” by the Faces, thanks to music guru Steve Martel (thanks Steve).
But there’s also a dark side to social media—where trolls, cyber bullies, rumors and outright lies thrive.
On balance, I’ll take the bad because I think the upside and potential of social media far outweighs the negative.
The good, bad and ugly of social media is being debated loudly these days in the wake of the strangest and most divisive election most of us have ever seen. I assiduously avoid national politics on my Facebook page but many of my friends on both sides of the gaping divide had a field day this cycle.
I watched in real time long standing relationships blow up over posts and comments and it saddened me.
I suspect a few Thanksgiving celebrations may have different rosters as a result of social media posts.
And it’s not just national elections that get us overheated. Local politics is also rife with anger and recrimination.
I keep an eye on this page in Boca that can get lively. I’ll shield the names to protect the innocent, but this was an exchange last week regarding a luxury hotel coming to town.
It follows a typical pattern.
Someone expresses happiness that a project is coming.
Someone else quickly replies that the project stinks, will ruin the city and create traffic jams.
The person, who was happy a second ago, replies that his neighbor should move if they don’t like what’s happening. Usually it’s not a polite: “why don’t you consider a locale where you might find bliss”, nope it’s typically a variation of “shut up and move if you don’t like it.”
And now we are off to the races: fighting words like: whining, greed and moron are exchanged and we descend from there until it finally burns out only to be rekindled when someone else joins in and expresses an opinion about how things “used to be” or the need for one thing or another. It’s exhausting and I’m not sure what it all adds up to.
Did we learn something?
Did we solve anything?
I think there’s some value in expression, but this kind of stuff hardly qualifies as dialogue.
I just finished an interesting book: “I’m right and you’re an Idiot” which explains why people get dug in and offers some insights into how to bridge divides and achieve some measure of civility and compromise.
One giant takeaway is that “facts” hardly matter—oh sure some people will change their mind if presented with evidence, but many won’t regardless of how much you throw at them. People do respond to stories and emotion, but typically once they adopt a narrative and a world view it’s hard to budge them. Social media only amplifies that human trait.
I think social media is an amazing tool for a public official or anyone in a leadership position. I think if you are in office you should be using social media to connect to constituents and to explain your positions and also solicit input. But it is NOT a substitute for face to face human interaction and real life interaction.
A lot is lost online—we’ve all been burned by email, text messages and social media posts—because we can’t see body language or ask for clarification like we can when we are face to face.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’ve seen families fight and friends “defriend” and “block” each other.
Social media platforms have had an odd response to this difficult and complex environment.
Twitter has suspended accounts and has been blasted for doing so. The service says it is ridding the platform of hate speech; those who have been booted are crying censorship.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has argued that “false news” (like the Pope endorsing Trump which was shared, liked and cited thousands of times) didn’t have an impact—in the next breath he’s selling advertising on his site because of its ability to influence decisions. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. And yes, Facebook ads work. I can personally attest because I have sold a few books with Facebook ads and we have sold a bunch of hot sauce and beverages by promoting our brands on the site. Like it or not, Facebook is our water cooler these days. It matters.
I would just caution that we don’t limit all of our interactions to social media—there’s still room for meet ups, coffee with friends, group discussions etc. With augmented and virtual reality coming fast, we better leave room for face to face old-fashioned conversation.
We may not ever agree on whether a Mandarin Hotel is the right thing—but it’s not as easy to call someone a moron when he or she is sitting right in front of you.

Coda: A few words about anger.
Social media has the ability to spread a lot of happiness and laughter—and it can also make you angry.
Regardless, there’s no doubt that social media can affect your mood and may affect your behavior in the real world. We need to chill.
The real world can apparently also make you crazy.
Last week as I was leaving my neighborhood I noticed a cyclist lingering near the gate. I inched up so the gate could open. I don’t think he was paying attention and I may have startled him. But I can assure you my intention wasn’t to get up and run someone over. I just wanted to open the gate for both of us and go to work.
It seemed to annoy him. He pulled up to the side of the car, I put the window down. I was treated to a few expletives—and stupidly gave him a few back. He gave me his address and so I gave him mine—not sure why this was necessary but I suspect it wasn’t so he could come over and discuss whether a Mandarin Hotel was good or bad for Boca. If he does come over, I will apologize for startling him, and politely remind him my intention was to open the gate not maim him.
When I relayed the story to a friend, he told me was screamed at by a cyclist and a driver for not crossing the street fast enough for either’s taste.
“Did the extra half second it took for me to get out of the way ruin their day?” my friend asked.
Probably not. But that’s just a guess.
Relax…breathe…exhale…(I so need to take this advice).

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