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Why I Love Social Media

WHEN I STARTED BLOGGING IN the prehistoric era 2008, I posted almost daily. I had so much I wanted to say, and to preserve. Initially, I wrote because I wanted to capture some of my favorite anecdotes for my kids to read someday. But as I wrote, a small and mildly disturbed following built up, and people started commenting. The feedback was exciting! It led me to comment on my commenters' blogs, and thus I connected with people, virtually at first, then I met some of them "IRL" (in real life, as we say). In fact, today I count some of them among my best pals.

Years passed. Life happened. I blogged less. (So did lots of people.) During this time, Facebook surged in popularity. My online connecting gradually migrated from the blogosphere to Facebook, almost exclusively. I have a love-hate thing with Twitter, I have a Tumblr but I don't think I'm doing it right... I post the occasional photo on Instagram, but I'm on Facebook a lot.  I admit, I like the instant gratification the comments provide. It's more immediate than what I experienced when I was a frequent blogger, and I connect with far more people through Facebook than I ever did through this blog.

Lately, I'm reading lots of things about how social media in general is ruining society. It's making us rude. It's inhibiting our ability to really connect, on a human level, with other humans. It turns us into cyber-road-ragers, bullies from behind our tiny screens. And I do believe grains of truth exist here.

BUT: I also think there is much good to be harnessed in social media. Several recent events come to mind.

First, my 25th (!) college reunion. (I still can't believe it's been that many years.) I have maintained contact with a handful of classmates from Dickinson College's esteemed class of '89, and because of our Facebook connections, when we reunited in June, it was as if we picked up without missing a beat. We already knew what each other looked like. We didn't have to go through the tedious exchange of minutiae (where do you live, are you married, how many kids, what do you do, are your parents still alive...). We already had things to talk about. I had the good fortune become reacquainted with several classmates. We've continued our conversations via Facebook, and while we might not see each other again until 2019 (gulp!), we'll be up to speed when we meet next.

Second, there was the informal high school gathering in July. Some of us who graduated in the 1980s met up for a mini-reunion. It was hosted by a classmate I have not seen since I left town in 1985, but with whom I've resumed contact and have had regular exchanges through Facebook. It didin't feel like we hadn't seen each other for 29 years! It was as if we'd seen each other just last week. And again, I came away with a few new connections with whom I look forward to connecting, even if it's only virtual for the next few years.

Third, The sad news of a former boss's untimely death came my way last week via Facebook, and I used Facebook to spread the news. While you wouldn't want to find out about the death of a close relative through social media, I was able to efficiently reach a number of former coworkers from the 1990s through Facebook. And when we met up at the viewing, it was nice to see them all, despite the sad circumstances of our coming together.

Fourth, we are currently trying to harness the power of social media to help locate our neighbor, John Rogers, who has been missing since August 21. There's no better, more efficient way to reach lots of people. It's one of many tactics being employed by Team Rogers, of course. Please, spread the word! There's a Facebook Group now - look for "Find John Rogers." And you can follow @FindJohnRogers on Twitter, too. I believe we need to get this in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Facebook is like a mini reunion. You celebrate milestones. You commiserate. Sympathize. Giggle. You share information. You crowdsource. Share recipes. You maintain connections. I just have to believe those connections MATTER. 

Of course, things can get complicated when exes / coworkers / your own kids are your Facebook connections. And, there are users who are abusers. They tear down; they cyber-bully; they brag; they one-up. So block them, or unfriend them. Be selective with your sharing. You wouldn't allow that in real life, would you? And yes, the potential exists to stick your virtual foot in your virtual mouth if you become careless with your privacy settings. But that can happen in real life, too.

I am in awe of the ability to harness social media for the greater good. There are so many wonderful examples, but Momastery comes immediately to mind. Here's a blogger turned philanthropist - her Monkee See, Monkee Do foundation that has sponsored Love Flash Mobs to show people that They Matter, Love Wins, We Care. And the recent craze over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is another amazing example, raising over $100 Million for ALS research!

Despite my tendency towards healthy skepticism, I'm basically an optimist. I almost always want to give folks the benefit of the doubt, to believe they intend to do good. I believe we can use social media for so much good. Let's not let the abusers ruin it for the rest of us.