I was having a conversation recently about the merits of social platforms on the internet and whether they were actually useful or positive. Some of the opinions I’ve heard before came up — ones like “Facebook is full of politics and cat videos” that I’ve agreed with before. But suddenly I found myself being contrary.

It was one of those moments where you start talking and newish ideas that hadn’t blatantly occurred to you before happen in the moment, such that you’re informing even yourself as you talk.

Despite having taken a negative tack in the past on certain aspects of social media, particularly on days where my news feed was extra “oof”, here I was recanting all the ways technology has shaped my life.

One of the things I learned when I first got out on my own was how many of the little aspects of people’s lives you take for granted when you live close by. When you move several states away, for instance, stuff like what someone likes for dinner or what their evening hobbies/habits are aren’t things that get brought up in the “How have you been?” phone calls.

Maybe those aren’t huge, but when you’re feeling lonely even those things are a connection to friends and family you realize you’re missing.

Some people complain about others sharing what they’re having for dinner on Facebook. “Who cares,” they say. And it’s true that there are some people whose dinner I really don’t care much about, either. But sometimes when family talks about that, or a record they set at the gym, or something significant about their day at work, it’s a piece of their life you’re able to share with them. Stuff they’d otherwise be doing that you’d have no idea about.

Preventing Fizzling Out

I have a couple close friends that I talk with regularly on Google Hangouts and iMessage. In both cases we’ve gone stretches where we may not talk much on the phone, yet have had some great and intellectual discussions through a tech platform.

In the case of one of my longest friendships, we haven’t seen each other in person for years. Yet we’ve still maintained a closeness through regular conversations in Hangouts and occasionally by phone. Would our friendship have simply fizzled out without social platforms? I’m not sure.

But I do know that I can recount handfuls of enlightening talks that happened there that I would never take back. And without cell phones? He could’ve been another friend from the past that got left there, but instead remains a meaningful part of my life.

People living sometimes thousands of miles away from each other, otherwise lead separate lives that could conclude without the other knowing anything about them. Any of it. And yet we can share as much as we choose.

Does it replace in-person quality time? Of course not. But in the absence of that, it makes a viable substitute for bring people together and maintaining relationships.

If that’s not social technology making our lives better, I don’t know what is. What a connecting force.

Look at this article. Maybe you’re a friend or family member of mine reading, or maybe you’re a stranger somewhere else in the world that has no idea who I am and came upon this somehow. Yet here we are, me sharing a part of me and you hopefully connecting with it.

Sure, the internet has no shortage of trolls and bullies. Some people complain more than we’d like or bring up divisive topics at inopportune times. Sometimes they share too many fluffy animal videos (I do it, too) and we complain there’s not enough dialogue of substance.

But to focus on only that takes away from the way this technology connects us. And for that bit, I am grateful.

Categories: Musing and Science & Technology.

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