A huge social media shortfall is a really simple one
If the whole concept of social media had an approval rating, I imagine it’d be pretty low right now. It used to be a good tool for overthrowing oppressive dictatorships and what not, but now, it seems to be the easiest way to turn friends and family members against each other.
So much has already been written about the dystopian future social media seems likely to bring about. Even a former Facebook executive has recently come out repentant over what the organization has become.
Sociologists and psychologists have written some pretty scary things about social media does to our brains, but what if one of its biggest flaws was a much more simple one… and what if there were some simple things we could do about that.
You can’t talk to everybody the same way
Think of the people around whom you can be your real self. Your spouse or partner. Your best friends.
Imagine yourself on the second day of a road trip together, where everyone has their guard down. Think of the stories you’re likely to tell, the jokes you’re likely to repeat, or the rabbit holes of curiosity you’re likely to go down.
Now imagine being in a room where your family reunion, ten-year high school reunion, church potluck, and office retreat are all happening at the same time. Are you going to be the same version of yourself as you’d be on that road trip?
Probably not. You’ll be a different version of yourself. One with more guards. This reflects reality: we have different relationships with different people, and that’s reflected in the way we speak.
When messages get mixed, drama happens
When you hit send to a Facebook post, the most random collection of people are the ones who end up reading it.
A sweet older church lady, a now-heavily-tattooed friend from high school, the person that’s always trying to sell me essential oils, someone I met last week, and four aunties.
How the heck are you supposed to address this audience? I typically write a post with my closest peers in mind, but they haven’t liked anything in months. Instead, it's the strangest collection of people.
This has the potential for so much drama. Either you:
• Just embrace being a loose cannon, because haters gonna hate. The problem is… there’s definitely plenty of hate in the world and so much of that is fueled by people talking past each other on social media.
• Just be very businesslike and formal online. You’ll play it safe… except for the part where you’re inching us closer and closer to an Orwellian future where our personalities are subdued to keep the peace.
We can prevent this by making better use of some of the tools we have
There have been two great technological advancements with the potential to overcome this flaw. And they’re ridiculously simple ones that have been around for forever.
The block button.
Is there someone who’s always more drama than fun online? This button is your friend.
I used to talk myself out of blocking people, thinking that blocking someone was the same as writing them out of my life, denying their humanity, and climbing deeper into my echo chamber.
Turns out… it’s just a button. Not everything you have to say is meant for every person. There are still plenty of amazing analog ways to reach out to them.
A curated friend list.
Few people make any lists at all, but it’s a worthwhile feature.
Make lists based on the people you’d rather be talking to online. I’ve seen people use this feature to raise fascinating and productive conversations about social issues among trusted friends rather than the argumentative masses.
Social media itself may be a mix of some good and lots of potential for evil. Either way, though, it’s here to stay and for most people it occupies a large portion of the day. We might as well figure out how to make it work for us.