5 Ways Social Media Makes Us Better

Technology bashing has been in vogue for some time now. Not by my generation, mind you, but by those who I can only assume are feeling left out of things they refuse to take the time to understand (reminds me of when our grandparents told our parents that movie theaters and rock music would destroy their souls).

Now I won't belabor the point that blaming the device is not unlike blaming the symptom of a disease. That should be evident enough. But what I will take issue with is the notion that the latest technologies are making us worse people. Such as the common argument that social media is making my generation narcissistic. No, people are inherently narcissistic and they'll take advantage of any opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Everything can be used for good or evil. And I think it's worth investigating how social media has actually championed good qualities in us.

1. Facebook makes us more discrete

We like to complain, particularly about other people. It's one of the most delicious vices to vent about another person behind their back. And for years we did that--depending on the various circles we were running with at the moment. So long as the boss wasn't around, or the pastor, or that annoying cousin, we could say whatever we wanted.

Naturally, those comments and conversations moved onto Facebook. But there was an unexpected consequence. Facebook took it upon itself to constantly redesign privacy settings. Irritating as that is, it's taught us a valuable lesson: nothing we say or do is completely private. Not just on social media either; it's always been like this. Just because the supervisors aren't around doesn't mean that your conversation won't get back to them. And since virtually everyone and their mother is on Facebook, we're forced to actually think about what we say, and whether it's worth saying.

2. Twitter makes us more concise

Some folks write comments like they're applying for a Pulitzer. Perhaps wordiness is supposed to demonstrate greater intellect or thoughtfulness, but really it's just asinine. While some will undoubtedly chalk this up to cultural A.D.D., I think we've all just grown tired of redundancy.

Enter Twitter: a world where we're forced to condense our thoughts into 140 characters (that sentence was 87). At first, it feels trite. As if writing was never meant for such limited expression. But gradually we find that most individual thoughts don't require much more than a sentence or two. It's taught us to be editors of ourselves, and how to communicate with as few needless modifiers and phrases as possible. Maybe with that comes less freedom of expression. But if the main idea is clearer, I think it's just made us better at expressing ourselves.

3. Blogging makes us more bold

People are naturally insular and prone to feeling alone. It's because many of our thoughts and questions embarrass us. We don't want to be seen as foolish or weak, so we build walls with nice, whitewashed exteriors. And this is precisely why accountability groups don't work. Putting a bunch of people rotting on the inside in a room together doesn't mean that they won't polish their walls before they get there. We need to feel safe to be vulnerable. And most of us feel safe when we're anonymous.

Faceless interaction may be the punching bag of social media detractors, but it's allowed an awful lot of people to share things they wouldn't under any other circumstances. The success of this concept is hard to ignore when looking around the blogosphere. Everyone has a story. Many are sharing theirs. And fewer and fewer people are feeling alone. Instead, they're feeling empowered.

4. Pinterest makes us more creative

It's easy to forget that ideas are never conceived out of thin air. Da Vinci's flying machines were the result of avian observations. Rock and roll was borne out of blues. And the internet is just a virtual series of tubes. This means that creative people aren't magical geniuses filled with possibilities yet undiscovered. They're just folks who are really good at connecting the dots.

The good news for the rest of us is that Pinterest exists almost exclusively as a showcase for creativity. Just the other day, my wife showed me how someone used Lego baseboards like wallpaper for their kid's room. Now there's nothing new there (Lego's and walls have been with us for some time now). But immediately upon seeing that, my mind started wondering what it would be like to make picture frames with those baseboards. That's either a terrible idea or one already done; but either way, the more we interact with creative ideas, the more creative we become.

5. YouTube makes us more capable

Not that the world needs any more acronyms, but one of the best is DIY: do it yourself. And a lovely concept that is for those of us who aren't handy whatsoever. DIY books and manuals have been around for decades, but everyone knows that it's really difficult to learn new things without someone actually showing us.

That's what makes YouTube so great. Many probably don't realize the educational value of this platform because they think it's mostly music videos and teenagers talking to themselves. Ok that's probably true, but there are still a lot of DIY videos and even some educational ones that would put any college prep school to shame. It's become a new center for learning with experts on everything just a click away. And it's hard to argue with the results when you don't have to shell out hundreds of dollars for someone else to re-tile your bathroom.

Photo credit: Rosaura Ochoa via Foter.com / CC BY