Social Media as a Deliberate Tool for Good?

Note: My tone in this post is a little more serious than what you’ll typically find on this blog. If you’re here for lolz, come back again soon!

The thoughts of this post have been swirling in my head for the better part of a year. My personal use of social networks has dwindled over the last several months. Not to say I’ve been inactive, I’m just using social media less often.

This isn’t one of those posts where I exclaim my abhorrence for social media and delete all of my accounts in protest. That’s not to say I haven’t felt that urge before either. Some days social media is just TOO MUCH and the only logical solution seems to be to erase that shit from our lives for good and move on.

In fact, I’ve been so impressed by Boone and his experience walking away from social media altogether. His cold-turkey approach has actually improved his physical and mental health, and he seems genuinely more happy since the change.

In his own words:

In place of the online world that I’m increasingly leaving behind, I’ve been searching out new channels for engagement that feel more authentic. An oddly underattended college reunion and some related contact with college buddies has caused me to reflect on the communities that we move in and out of through the course of our lives, and to think about how these dormant connections might serve as the organic seed for meaningful future relationships. I’ve been devoting more time to music and to a new-found interest in the visual arts. I’ve reached out to some old friends, and after stumbling across a cache of old letters from high school and college, have started building the idea of private correspondence – letter writing for its own sake! – back into my life.

How fantastic is that?

But that life isn’t for me. The reality is that I’ve gained so many positive relationships, meaningful conversations, and work opportunities from social media that walking away all at once feels like a betrayal of sorts.

But I’ve also felt exactly what Boone describes when he talks about “engagement that feels more authentic”.

An Authentic Engagement on 9/11

I served a mission for the LDS church and lived in and around Boston for 2 years. I lived in Lowell, MA for a year, and for those of you who have never been, it’s the most beautifully diverse place I’ve ever lived.

Some of you may know this, but many of you probably don’t, that at that time (2000-02), LDS Missionaries were totally disconnected from the outside world. And I mean totally disconnected. Not only did we not have the internet, we didn’t own a television, or even listen to the radio in our car (if we had a car).

Our lives were single-purpose in every conceivable way. Zero distractions.

That means that when two airliners left Logan International Airport and flew into the World Trade Center, we had absolutely no idea. The planes left an airport 30 minutes from where we were living, and we were totally oblivious.

I remember walking out of our apartment that cool Tuesday morning and thinking that things seemed “unusually quiet”, but we carried on. We arrived at the food bank and the shift organizer had a look of total shock on his face.

Them: I can’t believe you showed up!

Us: We’ve been showing up every Tuesday for six months. Why are you surprised?

Them: It’s just that, with the towers and everything. I mean, doesn’t this work seem a little pointless on a day like today?

Our faces when he referenced “the towers”

He could tell we were totally clueless, so he turned on the radio and we heard the horrific news. The second tower fell not long after we started listening.

After hearing the news, my companion and I felt even more urgency to get work done at the food bank. We knew there was a reasonable chance the food we were boxing up could end up helping people in New York, so we got to work and we didn’t stop for many hours.

I can’t help but wonder what I would have done had I seen that news break on Twitter, rather than finding out about it on the radio inside the food bank.

How much time would I have spent scrolling feeds and filtering through conflicting news sources digging for the truth?

And would we have shown up to the food bank at all?

I like to believe I still would have showed up, but in all honesty, I’m not sure. The work I did didn’t have any major impact on aiding survivors and their families in NYC, but I know we made a positive difference in the lives of the people working at the food bank.

They were so discouraged and heartbroken by the news (we all were), but the fact that we showed up signaled a path forward. Us showing up was all they needed to get back to work. Because of that we were able to do our small part to help the community in a place where we could make a real impact.

Using Social Media as a Tool for Good

Gary Stevenson, an Apostle for the LDS Church talks about a few of the risks of social media in his October 2017, conference talk, Spiritual Eclipse:

The use of social media, mobile apps, and games can be inordinately time-consuming and can reduce face-to-face interaction. This loss of personal conversation can affect marriages, take the place of valuable spiritual practices, and stifle the development of social skills, especially among youth.

This isn’t news. It’s common sense and something most of us have known for quite a while. But the real-life consequences are becoming more and more apparent.

An increase in suicide rates among U.S. teens occurred over the last five years, and a recent study shows that one factor may be social media use for more than two hours per day.

That’s not to say that the use of social media is causing suicide in teens, but extended use can increase the risk of exposure to things like cyber bullying which certainly does have a direct link to teen suicide.

In other words, if you play with fire, eventually you’re gonna get burned.

Again, these are things we know. But I think it’s important to identity in as much detail as we can how our virtual world actions can have real world results.

The good news is that I believe technology can have the exact opposite effect if it’s used for less time and more wholesome purposes.

Elder Stevenson goes on:

Hopefully, we can learn to be more real, find more humor, and experience less discouragement when confronted with images that may portray idealized reality and that too often lead to debilitating comparisons.

With so many appropriate and inspired uses of technology, let us use it to teach, inspire, and lift ourselves and to encourage others to become their finest—rather than to portray our idealized virtual selves. Let us also teach and demonstrate the righteous use of technology to the rising generation and warn against the associated hazards and destructive use of it

While I’m not ready to delete my accounts and walk away, I am going to make a concerted effort to promote good, share laughs, make connections, and filter out all the garbage that brings me and the people around me down.

I’m seeking out the authentic for my own mental health, and to be a model for “the rising generation” (my kids). I owe it to them to be real in every part of my life, virtual or otherwise.

I also never want to look back and think about what I could have done if I had better controlled my use of social media. I want to make sure that whenever the next opportunity to serve, or meet a friend for lunch, or play LEGO with my kids comes up, I’m there and fully present.

Have you made any changes to your social media usage recently? Or do you plan to? What are you going to change and why?


P.S. This doesn’t mean you should expect a stream of inspirational quotes arranged over the top of landscape photos in my social feeds. You’re just gonna get me, as I am, sharing and promoting the good things I see, and being real about my life.

P.P.S. Yes I already blocked Donald Trump

P.P.P.S. Take a look at “Behind the Scenes of Instagram Photos

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