Here’s my snarky blog post that probably no one will ever read.
Picture this: you’re sitting in a lecture with an enthralling guest speaker, someone you admire and have always wanted to meet. Let’s call him Dan. He has travelled out of state to be here, in this packed lecture hall, with you and 249 other devotees. Dan is talking humbly yet candidly about his peacekeeping mission to the Sudan and his work with the UN and the social justice non-profit he started when he was just thirteen-years-old in rural Alabama. You are hanging with baited breathe on his every word. You notice a glowing light in the lap of the person sitting next to you. Let’s call him Guy. Guy has his Macbook Air open and is IM-ing on Facebook with a friend. Right next to you. Just tick-tock typing away. You try to ignore it, and savor the inspirational nuggets that Dan is dropping left and right. Then suddenly Guy laughs out loud- no, I know what you’re thinking, he didn’t LOL. He laughed in REAL LIFE. In the middle of Dan’s lecture.
Guy’s friend must have said something funny. Don’t get me wrong. I like funny. I also like Facebook, but I’m a firm believer that there’s a time and a place for everything. Dan got distracted, I got distracted, the woman with the big hair in front of me got distracted. When did this become the accepted norm?
A couple of years ago I started noticing that lecturers often seem to settle their gaze on me while they speak. As vainglorious as I am, I’ve decided it isn’t my unbridled beauty, it’s that I’m one of the few people who are actually looking back at them. I’m not updating my Facebook status or tweeting or chatting or even doing my homework. I’m engaged. I’m listening. Those of you who are versed public speakers know that it’s downright difficult to talk to a bunch of people who aren’t looking at you. I may be taking notes on my laptop, but the speaker doesn’t know that’s what I’m doing. Look up every now and then to show them you’re ‘there.’ All they see is a sea of people with their noses in their devices and assume the worst. Look up Guy. Pay attention to Dan. Show some respect.
Incidentally, I can identify a mere 7 out of 16 logos pictured above. I think that’s pretty good. How many can you identify? How many of them do you use? And do you have a different log-in and password for each one? If so, has it become a fulltime job managing that? I actively use four social media sites: Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Twitter, but between those and my bank accounts and my email, I can barely keep it all straight.
Although it sometimes falls short, nobody can argue with the power of social media. It has changed the way that we communicate, relate with the world, and the way that we obtain information. It has played a key role in social and political mobilization and uprising. The Arab Spring across the Middle East was in part a result of organizing via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. More locally, the recent Supreme Court hearing on same sex marriage and Prop 8 took on a life of its own on social media; over half of my ‘friends’ changed their profile picture to Human Rights Campaign’s red equal sign. Suddenly, millions of people were showing their solidarity for equal rights for all. Social media has a lot to offer in terms of quickly and effectively disseminating information, and creating a network of relationships in a way that we've never really had before. As long as people aren't relying on social media as the end-all be-all, or a replacement for in-person communication and relationships, I appreciate what it has to offer. It is the means to greater things, not the way. It’s putting power into the hands of everyday people to communicate quickly and efficiently, with the power to improve lives and strengthen relationships.
Everybody is joining the team- even the government has embraced social media in its efforts to "open-up." There is a participatory element to open government that really speaks to me, and if social media is one of their vehicles, all the better since so many people utilize it. But do I think social media is going to save the world? Not quite, but sometimes it’s really cool. Twitter is like having your own private newswire coming right to me. Can I just say that as a budding journalist about 8 years ago, I would have killed for such a thing. It’s like crack. You can never get enough. And it just keeps on coming.
Guy, get off Facebook. Unplug for a bit. Listen. Pay attention. Be present. It might be the best gift you can give yourself, and maybe everyone else around you.