Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Today’s guest post comes from Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure, and become fully alive. Chris’ posts offer creative insights and new ways of examining life, our callings, the Christian journey, and relationships. 

Also be sure to check out Chris’ new book Blaze Your Own Trail.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Back in October, my wife and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary by taking a cruise to the Bahamas. During the final moments before departure, I took a photo of the ship’s main deck and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “Let’s go cruisin’!”

no phoneIt was the last time I would be connected to the outside world for six days. Sure, I could have paid the cruise line’s exorbitant fee just to check email, Facebook, and the web, but why did I need to? We were sailing in the open seas surrounded by crystal blue waters, headed toward magnificent tropical destinations.

Since most of my fellow cruisers were also unwilling to undergo voluntary highway robbery in order to stay connected, a most unusual thing happened. People stayed present in the moment. Strangers spoke to strangers. In turn, strangers quickly became friends.

Nearly every night at dinner, my wife and I made conversation with the new faces at surrounding tables. While lounging on the deck, we engaged with people. In addition, we made a point to nightly stop by the photography area just to talk with our new photographer friends cruise line employees from all over the globe, including South Africa, India, and Serbia.

Even today, we’ve maintained contact with a few of our cruise friends through the magic of Facebook.

After a week at sea, it hit me. This is way life is supposed to be. God designed us for community and to experience life right in front of us.

Social media cannot replace in-person interactions and the deep satisfaction we receive by being in the company of friends and family. When kept in proper balance, social media offers a number of incredible opportunities. Unfortunately, our constant connection with the outside world has a dark side, as well.

First, the bad and the ugly. Social media…

  1. Tends to dominate our time when we fail to place boundaries around its usage.
  2. Harms the relationships right in front of us when we lose sight of its importance. We dishonor those in our presence when we are consumed with checking our phones instead of engaging in conversation.
  3. Lends itself toward shallow connections. Many of the online discussions center around mundane topics, such as conversation about tonight’s dinner menu or the latest bathroom mirror selfie.
  4. Morphs into junior high all over again. People claiming over 2,000 “friends?!” Anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the famed Dunbar’s number has spent countless years researching human relationships. His work has consistently shown that we are designed to maintain about 150 meaningful relationships, a far cry from the thousands of people many boast as “friends” and “followers” on social media channels.
  5. Is often poorly utilized as a marketing tool. Some folks are simply in the social media game to promote themselves and their products without first taking time to develop relationships.

Now, the good. Social media…

  1. Offers a bridge to real relationship. While it is difficult to get to know friends at the heart level through social media, we are often able to obtain a glimpse of who they are. Hopefully, we take some of those friendships beyond Facebook and Twitter. One of the greatest pleasures I have had in recent years has been connecting with several online friends in the real world.
  2. Provides a convenient means to permanently maintain established relationships. Never before have we had such an incredible opportunity to stay connected and build lifelong friendships, even through the shifting seasons of life.
  3. Allows us to build connections around shared ideas, values, and passions. We live in extraordinary technological days. As a result, we have the opportunity to connect with people we likely would have never met otherwise. In fact, I originally connected with some of my closest friends through social media.
  4. Leads to the deepening of a few friendships. I have held some of the most meaningful conversations of my life online, especially through commenting on blogs. The key is to find people who are also out to build real friendships and virtually surround yourself with positive influences.

No matter how ingrained social media becomes in our culture, the medium can never replace the handshake between business associates, the eye contact across the dinner table, a shoulder to cry on, and the bear hug between best friends. However, if we engage it properly, our use of social media can lead us into an ongoing season of developing and enriching our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What other good, bad, and ugly aspects have you found within the world of social media?

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

27 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

      • I'm with both of you guys. We unplug regular for short periods but then for longer periods on vacations and when camping in the summer. Such a refreshing experience. Really feels like I've hit a reset button when I do that.

  1. I've noticed on more than a few occasions teens dining at a restaurant together but all of them are looking down on their phones and not actually engaging with those at their own table. I think social media can make people less able to connect with people, look others in the eye and have one on one conversations.

    • Unfortunately, I don't see just teens doing this; parents do it too. Electronics are off limits at dinnertime for our family. My husband and I try to set the example in this, and so far it's working well. We have no problem taking devices away if need be, but we haven't had to yet. Really is all about the tone the parents set; at least, that's been my experience and my observation.

  2. Great lists Chris! I think another down-side is the negativity and bullying that can go on. It's so easy to click on share or retweet . . . and often it's without checking to see if it's truth. One of my favorite good things is the opportunity I've had to connect and chat with people all over the world.

    I'm with Coach Mike and TC though, I don't ever want it to take the place of human contact or time for quiet reflection with the Lord.
    My recent post Celebrate the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

  3. TC, I've seen the same thing. Recently, my wife and I were in a peaceful coffee shop across the street from the beach. The coffee shop is also attached to a restaurant, separated by a wall of windows. After we had been there for a few minutes, I looked over and this massive group came pouring into the restaurant. One table was filled with a group of about eight teenage girls. Every single one of them had their phones glued to their hands.

    So, you are exactly right. I'm not sure why this group even felt the need to eat together.
    My recent post Just Say No to Networking

    • Definitely troubling. I've just decided I can't do anything about what others are doing, but I can determine what my kids do and what I do and don't do. Hopefully, our example impacts other families. That's getting harder to do, but at least I know it's impacting my own kids, who are my first responsibility. There are restaurants that have actually banned cell phone use, though it's more because of an atmosphere setting and because it disrupts others dining experience, and I'm glad to see that happening. Maybe it will be a trend that will catch on for more relational reasons too!

  4. While I think that social media helps us keep up with alot of our friends it does so on a surface level. I think we think we are better at relationships because of it I actually think people are worse. To have a great relationship means we invest time with another person and sometimes that time is just engaging them one on one in conversation or just hanging together. Social media allows us to sprinkle our time among alot of people but the work of building a relationship happens one on one and the rewards are much greater I think. I'd rather have one person really know me that 20 who just pass on the social highway everyday.

    • Mark, excellent addition to the conversation. I am in agreement – I would much rather spend one-on-one time with a close friend than converse at the surface level with several surface level friends. Also, if we cease investing in social media for a period of time, we tend to lose even those surface level connections. How many people take time to connect with individuals via a phone call or in-person anymore? Even that isn't convenient enough.

      • You are both right on here. I do have reasons I like and use social media for connections, but it in no way replaces relationships. There's a huge difference between relationship and connection for sure. Social media can be a supplement to a relationship, but it cannot BE the relationship. It's like vitamins (sort of)… they add to the benefit of food but they cannot replace it. In fact, just taking supplements without food makes you nauseated.

        • Perfect analogy. What an awful life that would be if we sat around chewing on vitamins! We have to move beyond social media at some point in order to for the relationship to really thrive.

    • You're so right! Excess of anything is not good for us. We need to find balance, knowing that it looks different for every person. And you're also right in that we need to be reminded of these things often; otherwise, we get caught up in the trend.

    • Shelly, thanks for taking time to read and comment. You're exactly right. If we don't practice moderation, we become an addict. Being a social media addict causes us to look for our value and satisfaction in the wrong places.

  5. Social media is a tool and we have to be careful to control it and not allow it to control us. I love your thoughts about the good and bad side of social media. #1 on the good is one of the most valuable things I've found to be true with social media, I have several people who I consider close friends because of social media.

    Amazing post Chris!!!
    My recent post 4 Ways to Build your Confidence

    • Looking at good and bad reminds us to find our balance with it, doesn't it? It's a tool we can use for God if we refuse to be its slave. Really, that's true of just about any technology.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Dan. That's a profound way to put it – controlling it ourselves instead of being controlled by it. Plenty of people are addicted to it. On the other side, I wouldn't have met you without it. While social media can get a bad rap, it offers us an awesome opportunity to connect with some incredible people.

  6. There's definitely the potential to get sucked in. Appreciated the mention of how it works for good with relationships. I'd like to offer that it also has the potential for you to share a message of hope/encouragement to others on a much larger scale than you may otherwise have been able to do in the past. If you'd told me I could learn from or be in contact withe people I now have direct access to, I would have laughed.

    • David, it seems like there is a lot of bashing of social media (even from those who use it), and I wanted to try and take a balanced approach. Obviously, there are several positives, or all of us us wouldn't be present on it.

      I agree with you. We now have the ability to encourage people across oceans and cultures. That did not seem possible back at the turn of the century.

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