Just how social is social media?

First published Monday, June 16, 2014

Over the course of the weekend, I’ve been out and about at a birthday party, enjoyed a stay in a Tenby hotel overlooking the sea, and spent some time with my parents celebrating Father’s Day. It’s been lovely – good times, good weather, and generally pleasant.

Whilst eating my breakfast Sunday morning (the bacon was the best I’ve ever tasted!) I was watching folks around the room as they also had their breakfast. A couple of tables across from me was a family group, adults and young children probably aged between around 3 and 10 at a guess. At one point, two adults and one child were in the now regularly seen head down position using their smartphones – perhaps to send a text, read an email, or in the case of the youngster, playing a game.

As I made my way home, driving through the town I spotted several people also walking along, smartphone in hand, head down, completely oblivious to the world around them. I have also been guilty of this, although over the weekend I made a conscious effort to put the damn phone down. I didn’t have it at the breakfast table, nor did I have it on my person whilst with my folks.

A brief browse through my Facebook timeline yesterday (Sunday – Father’s Day) showed many folks changing their profile pic to one of them with their Dad, or one of their Dad, along with celebratory or memorial messages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking that at all, but I do find it slightly strange perhaps that such proclamations are made so publicly – my Dad doesn’t ‘do’ social media, or for that matter anything vaguely techy, and I found it much more rewarding, as did he I hope, to spend time with him and my Mum yesterday, enjoying a peaceful afternoon chatting and just being in each other’s company.

My use of certain social media streams, Facebook in particular, has declined. I still have a mosey through the timeline, like the occasional post or comment on something a friend has posted, although far less frequently than I used to. So much of what appears on the site these days is quite simply not worth a look. From the downright stupid to the messages yelling ‘support our troops’ etc being posted by fanatical and frankly dangerous groups, Facebook is for me at least turning into some crass gossip site, full of self appointed experts on pretty much every subject under the sun and little in the way of interesting content. I have a friends list numbering nearly 800 people. Do I really, genuinely, know nearly 800 people as good friends. No. I do have family members on my friends list, and as a means of keeping in touch with them it is useful, and when my car broke down last week, I was lucky enough to find out who my real friends are when promptly sent her husband round to sort the problem.

There are some benefits to social media however – from reuniting a treasured teddy with it’s young owner, to raising thousands if not millions of pounds for charity (Cancer Research and the No-Make Up Selfie, and the Teenage Cancer Trust and Stephen Sutton being two such examples). All that said however, the life and persona we portray via social media streams can be very different from the reality. Whether we’re posting pictures of kids, a night out or the lovely view, or sharing a cute video of a child laughing or a cat playing, it can be trivial or contrived, and a bit, well, shallow. I have done all of the above. Maybe I am getting older, possibly wiser (!) or just finding that the real world is actually more interesting, but I am now spending less and less time in the virtual world. My kids live in the real world, as do my proper friends, my family. We may connect through via social media platforms on occasion, but to properly connect, create memories and share experiences, the ones that will be strongest and deepest will be those that come from being there in person.

The irony of sharing this post via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ is not lost on me. There is, and until something takes over, a place for social media in our lives, but and it’s a big BUT, I personally don’t believe that it should be the primary means of communicating with others, sharing information, thoughts, views and comments. It may be seen as social, but as a result there are many, particularly in the younger generations who can’t cope with a real life social situation as they don’t have the skills to communicate face to face or even using a telephone. So to finish up, I’m sharing this video (again the irony is not lost on me!). It’s worth a watch.


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