So What's Social About Social Media?

Currently, I'm reading Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir by Wael Ghonim, which thus far feels more like a guy who works at Google talking largely about how Facebook helped to generate the revolution in Egypt in Spring 2011 (I'm sure it's more than that but at the 1/2 mark, that's still largely my impression).  Coupled with this is an ongoing discussion through email, GoogleChat, Facebook posts, Facebook Chat, and Twitter that I've been having with a friend.  And friend is an interesting choice in this context.

Jane and I met in college.  She was a freshman when I was a senior.  Over the year, we ran into each other a handful of times, were friendly enough.  After college, like many people, we fell out of contact.  It was early 2000s.  The extent of social media was instant messaging, which I'm sure if I looked back, we were "Buddies" on AIM.  But largely, no real interaction after that.  Fast-forward into the late 2000s, and like so many others, we reconnected on Facebook.  Conversation was largely sparse at first.  Occasionally, we'd comment or like on one another's boards or get into discussions on a post with each other or among 2-4 people.  But then something clicked and the conversation and interaction went deeper.  We've spent the last few weeks dialoguing in these different formats asking questions, responding, recommending, and pushing each other to learn more. Since then, we've exchange pages of dialogue back and forth and found great reward in doing so.   In thinking about the ways that we are connecting, there were several things that I became aware of:

  1. Jane currently lives across the country from me.  Without social media, this would never have happened.
  2. Even if somehow the star aligned so that we did randomly encounter, without the glimpses and impressions we absorbed from one another over the last few years within social media, we'd be highly unlikely to engage in the meaningful exchanges we've had over the last two weeks.  We're still be playing the basic introductory interview, "How are you doing?  What have you been up to?  blah blah blah."  
  3. The asynchronous environment allows for me to pause and deliberate what it is that I wanted to say--affirming and even helping me to clarify my points and thoughts--providing what I hope is more substantive response to her and most likely, her to do the same.  It is comparative to the exchange of letters witnessed in much of history.
  4. Jane is not a fluke.  She is among several friends whom I've connected with or developed a deeper friendship with online than in real life would have offered.    

There's much talk about what social media has done for what are considered superficial relationships such as the Facebook hookup or the Craigslist NSA feature (though I would argue that these too aren't as superficial as many suggest--but that's a post for another time).   Many still undervalue the connections made via the internet, even though we are meeting people online more and more including 20% of couples.  What I find curious is that without social media, Jane and I's real-world connection would have remained superficial.  She would have been the echo of some impression that was lost to the annals of my past.  Instead, social interaction online solidified her as someone who has gotten me to deeply think and engage in the world.

  For those that say our interactions are less meaningful, useful, or substantive, from an educator's perspective, I find that almost silly.  In our interactions, I've written thousands of words as has she.  And these were on complex subjects such as religion, identity, relationships, sense-making in a complicated world and others.  These were not merely words in a conversation cast out without substantive or responsibility, but written with deliverate though and consideration.  Questions probe areas that are often hard to discuss and made each of us think profoundly.  That we wrote it down is equally important as we advocate to students all the time--writing down thoughts pushed us to articulate things we may not completely understand or process singularly in our heads.

What is social about social media?  It facilitates relationships that wouldn't happen otherwise.  It enhances relationships that weren't to the degree that they were.  It helps to bridge the gap between the outer and the inner.  And that's not to say that it always does, but that it's a tool to allow for that and there are a great many people who have benefitted from it.  I'm not about to say it's without risk, but all social relations contain risk.

So what about your experiences with social media enhancing your life?  I know this isn't quite a new topic (even not for me), but one that was just made all the more poignant because of my interaction this past and forthcoming week.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Jared and I met online. On Yahoo chat (or whatever it was called then) he searched for single females with 10 miles of Beverly that were online right at that moment who had the words "Mighty Mighty Bosstones" in their profile. One profile popped up, the rest is history.

  2. Email, GoogleChat, Facebook posts, Facebook Chat, and Twitter? This "friend" could be a stalker.....

  3. hahaha---that's great Erin!

    Jess--she could be a stalker--but I think it speaks more to the stumbling over of platforms that we use to interact more than anything else...carrying over conversation from one platform to another is part of the fun of it I supposes...but I'm pretty sure Jane is not a stalker :)

  4. Shows what you know, Lance. Didn't you ever see The Talented Mr. Ripley?


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