Using Social Media the RIGHT Way

Last night, my husband and I were out eating dinner before a concert we were attending. My husband was on his phone (as always). I’m giving him the stink-eye, he looks up at me, then back down at his phone – completely ignoring my blatant irritation at his phone use. In a fit of rage, I reach across the table and grab the phone away, hiding it beside me, much as a mother might have to do with an unruly child. 

This story is fairly typical of many of my interactions with, not only my husband, but many of my friends and family as well. I am one who avidly utilizes themti5otiwoda5mtc4nde3mtyy internet and my phone, but I have learned that there is a time and place for it. Sitting at dinner with your spouse or friend is not the time for it. When someone is trying to carry on a conversation with you, that is not the time for it. It has become an endless frustration that so many people seem unable to look away from their devices and connect with the real world – and I’m sure I am guilty of it as well. It can be hard to separate yourself from the nagging urge to check your texts/Facebook/email. I have experienced it as well, but much like Howard Rheingold (2012) outlines in “Net Smart” I have learned to focus my attention when necessary.

I am a huge advocate for the social abilities that technology has made possible. As someone who suffers from (at times debilitating) depression and social anxiety, the ability to “connect” while not being physically close to someone is something that has helped me tremendously. Additionally, there is such support out there (on the web) for people who suffer similar challenges, the communities that the internet and social media make possible can be endlessly beneficial. However, as Rheingold eloquently put it, “the same activity can be a lifeline for one person and a distracting compulsion to others” (2012, p. 8). This entirely sums up the differences in the evolution of use of social media between my husband and myself.

As a young adult I, like many other young adults, thought myself to be exceedingly important and felt the urge to post even the most mundane and uninteresting things to social media. As I learned to navigate these media, I began to see their propensity for good as well as their pitfalls. That was when I began to change the way I used such technologies, creating communities of trust and comfort while eliminating the more banal and unimportant posts from my profiles. This has helped me immensely in building a sense of belonging and allowing me to more easily cope with my circumstances.

My husband has a long history of becoming addicted to video-games, to the detriment of his academic and professional life at times. This is why, when he spends our dinner staring at his phone, I get afraid that it will become a compulsion he will not be able to stop. For the two of us, our technology and its social affordances creates two very different worlds.

This is why I think that Rheingold’s idea of “controlling attention” is so vital. While technology and social media can be extremely beneficial in connecting with others and creating/maintaining communities, if let run wild, they can be distractions that keep us from living our lives in the moment.

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Both photos courtesy of http://blazepress.com/2015/05/27-powerful-images-that-sum-up-how-smartphones-are-ruining-our-lives/ 

Posted on October 24, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Gina, i can definitely see the point you raise in the different ways people interact with social media and technology. I just don’t know if we can be allowed to say that one is better because it’s more familiar. Yes, people are constantly on their devices and playing video games. I see social media and technology fitting into my life as conversation enhancers personally. Working with technology to connect communities, create meaning, and inspire change.

    Your husband’s addiction to video games can be troublesome when it interferes with his other responsibilities, but that just means that we need to stop thinking about it in an “Us vs Them” mentality. Online Community/Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality is a part of our reality now. The level we choose to interact with it is dependent on the individual.

    Rhiengold may be on the right track but any talk of ‘controlling’ any form of expression comes with flashing warning signs in my mind.

  2. I think you are right. I too feel that being able to control our attention is very important. It’s not unlike dieting and having the control to walk past the donut shop. My husband is a little over-the-top anti cellphone. He hates when people are on their phones in public spaces. He hates to see people on their phones in restaurants or the like. I have to be very aware of what I’m doing and why when I’m using my phone in his presence. Whenever we’re out in public, my phone stay in my purse unless I have a need (browsing Facebook isn’t a need). He won’t carry a phone. Sometimes, he’ll want me to look something up or text our son. So it’s not that he is opposed to using smartphones. It’s actually that he thinks it’s rude for people to be staring at their phones while they should be communicating and enjoying each other’s company. He also is very much aware of the distraction they cause and the pull they have on our attention. He has said that the ding of a text is hypnotic and people will stop whatever they are doing to see what their message is. His dissertation was on distracted driving, so he is a strong believer in teaching people to ignore the pull of the ding until it’s safe (and not rude) to check messages.

    I also think you’re right about the benefits of social media being an asset to people with difficulty interacting socially. I know a young lady who has social anxiety and tends to stay in one room all day. She does everything online. She goes to school, talks with family, conducts business from her computer. It’s been a great asset for her, but I wonder if it is stunting her potential. She is never forced to come out of her comfort zone. She never has to force herself to get out and talk to people. I’d like to see her not rely so heavily on it, but use it as a tool when necessary.

    • You’re right – there is certainly a danger of relying too heavily on social media and technology for those with social “shortcomings”. However, I still think that the ability to find connections with others despite these hindrances is overall a positive. After all, there were certainly people who never left the house (recluses) before such technology was available, but at least now they have the possibility of connecting with others, which I think has the potential to help them overcome some of their social issues. It’s not a cure, and for some it may only make the problem worse, but I still think it is a positive.

      • You’re right – great point. My son (who will tell you he’s quiet, not shy) met his wife in person but got to know her on private chat online. She has social anxiety and prefers to talk online. She never visited, and when he would bring her over she would be super quiet. But I would get mile lone messages from her later and she’d tell me everything she wanted to tell me but didn’t want to do in front of people. Because he’s quiet and she avoids people, we joke and say we have no idea how they ever met.

  3. I’ve seen many images like the one you present here, with the family all together, but all on their devices (the classic “alone together”). But what if instead of devices, everyone in that room was reading a book instead? Most likely, that family would be praised for having family reading time, despite there being no more (and perhaps less) actual conversation between them.

    What if instead of holding devices, the whole family was gathered around the TV watching Survivor or the reality programming du jour. Sure, they’re not on their devices anymore, but I doubt many would consider that prime family time.

    I think too much emphasis is placed on conversation. You don’t have to talk all the time while you’re together–comfortable silence has its place. And I think people have forgotten how important silence is. I once had an older lady tell me that one of the best things to happen in her marriage was she and her husband realized they really don’t have to talk all the time.

    In fact, my husband and I don’t talk all the time either. Our time “together” often involves him playing a video game while I sit next to him and read. Being together is enough; we don’t need to force a conversation if neither feels like talking.

    Why is conversation required for spending time together and bonding to be considered “real”?

    • I agree that being together does not need to include conversation. And being physically together while doing separate things, or spending together time in silence is something I value and regularly participate in. My argument comes in when one person is trying to have a conversation or enjoy one activity WITH another person (even eating dinner in silence is an activity in itself), yet that person is focused on something else – I include TV, phones, computers, books, etc in this discussion. Of course I know that this “symptom” is nothing entirely new or novel in distraction techniques, we have always found ways to distract ourselves (as Rheingold mentions as well). My opinion, however, is that – no matter what your preferred method of distraction – you learn to use it without detriment to your current relationships. If you and your husband can comfortably spend all your time together on separate devices and be completely happy with that – that’s great! It’s all a matter of finding a balance between what you and those you are with feel is appropriate in each situation. There’s no “one size fits all” in any situation, and I think that is where the controversy comes in. I simply argue for each person to put more attention into how their behavior is affecting those they care about, and use technology and media accordingly.

  4. I heard a story just like this one on the Elvis Duran and the Morning Zoo radio show (Z100) a few weeks ago. The host and his co-hosts were UP IN ARMS about the fact that they had had dinner with friends the night before, and a woman took her husband’s phone away in front of the group. They speculated that it was an invasion of his privacy and emasculated him in front of his peers. I don’t know if I feel as strongly as that, but I do know that if I took my husband’s phone away in front of his friends they would be talking really negatively about me after the fact!

    The radio show went on to consider that perhaps the man being on his phone during social settings was a point of contention between he and his wife, and perhaps the fight had happened so many times that she had warned him to not do it again otherwise she’d take it away. Or something to that effect. It just goes to show that there are a lot of unwritten rules and unanswered questions about technology and its place among us especially when it comes to social situations.

    My husband and I have a strict no phone policy while we’re spending time together. We’re only allowed to use our devices to take pictures, look something up that has to do with the conversation, or for directions, stuff like that. But we can’t be on Facebook or texting other people when we’re together or having dinner. We’re certainly not perfect, but I think being devoted to my phone instead of the person I’m physically with is just not right. I’m on board with the “alone together” phenomenon. It’s real.

  5. So I wonder how to use social media the right way when I’ve been using it for over 11 years. I’m really wondering if I’m using it the right way for over a decade.

    I’m currently at the LavaCon Conference for Content Strategy and I’m continuously learning more about social media and how to work in that framework. For example, I spoke with a content strategist who works for Facebook who was a keynote at the conference and she talked about how she is writing simpler language for communicating to her audience and writing in “Facebook language.” She is learning more and more about how to writing in an inviting tone that is exciting for her audience.

    In essence, I thought it was fascinating how we are defining our field by writing about it and people my age are putting it together. Maybe we are writing our future by making it up.

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