These days phrases like “social media” and “social networking” are thrown around frequently without much consideration of precisely what they mean. While I’m sure we all understand the basic context of such phrases, have we ever really stopped and thought about the pros and cons of the activities they describe? In this article, we will explore the social side of social media and social networking in order to better understand both ourselves and those we choose to communicate with.
After reading Ian Caithness’ blog post about (Un)Social Networking, I began thinking about social networking at the most basic level, where I believe it exists as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. While I disagree with some of the assumptions Ian makes, I do support his belief that social networking websites “should be used as a support to a pluralist, integrated society of individuals.” Frankly, I just have to agree with Nile Flores, who rebutted Ian’s argument andsaid it best: “Social Networking does NOT break down real communication.” If that was the goal or consequence of social networking, then why bother in the first place?
For some folks, the phrase “social networking” as used in the modern sense, seems like an oxymoron. For how is it that we can improve our social connections when in order to do so we’re alienating ourselves from the so-called real world? On this point, I would argue that the connections we make online are not meant to replace those that already exist offline.
It is certainly true that many of the interactions we have online are with people we may never meet in person, but this is not the only purpose of social networking and it should not be used as a scapegoat by social media Luddites. There is a real world payoff even in these types of “online only” connections; it is the simple fact that with each person we communicate with, we are learning something new about the communication process in general.
Just like anything, effective communication takes practice. It is a learned ability that can be improved with the implementation of certain techniques. In fact, this is why we are able to major in it at many universities and why many of us took classes in public speaking and interpersonal communication throughout our lives.
If we simply view social networking as a classroom from which to learn, we can further our education on this subject better than ever before, and in doing so we can become more effective communicators regardless of the time or place. In the end, hopefully we will view online social networking as an extension of the offline social networking we already naturally engage in. While the medium may be different, the basic goals and lessons learned are the same.