Social media’s earliest forms date back to the 90s in the form of online bulletin boards. These were basically the prototype of forums, but it was the first time that people across the country could hop onto their computers and talk with one another. Today, social media is a completely different animal, and it’s the center of a lot of controversy.
Many people ask, “Is social media good or bad?” and the answer is always more complicated than they want. I’ve spent my life growing up with social media, so it’s something I’ve never been without. Maybe that gives me a bias in favor of it, but I’ll try to keep an objective view here. Not to self-report, but while I’m not old enough for those original bulletin boards, I can still hear the screeches of dialing into AOL. Like so many others, I put up my favorite lyrics as away messages on AIM. My time with Myspace, Facebook, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, X, and TikTok blends together to let me speak with some authority on how social media works and what it’s doing.
Social Media: Good AND Bad
So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about social media as a whole. Is social media good or bad?
Spoiler: it’s a good thing.
Second spoiler: it’s got some problems.
What Social Media Does Well
Social media gets a lot of bad press, with major news outlets and Congressional boomers going on about the risk it poses and whether the United States should ban entire platforms because of Wi-Fi (Understand how technology works as a Congressman challenge (IMPOSSIBLE)). While it’s clear that these people don’t understand what’s going on with it, there are some pretty obvious benefits to social media. Here are a few things I think it’s got going for it:
Stay in Touch with Friends
It’s really easy to fall out of touch with people. Like, stupid easy. One minute, you’re hanging out with them every day, then the next, you go off to college in Nebraska and they become a yak farmer in the Himalayas. In the past, the best you could expect would be to get a letter once a year from them, but these days, it’s a lot easier. You can still stay in touch with friends no matter where they are by following their Insta or TikTok (“Follow me @yakfarmer420 for the latest and greatest in braiding yak hair!”).
Even if you still share a zip code, people are busy—and every year, we get busier. I know this from experience. Once you get into the career part of your life, the idea of “free time” can go out the window. Thanks to social media, though, I get to keep up these friendships while I work. Now, it’s much easier to find the times that we can get together and hang out like the old days.
Explore and Share Your Interests
Not everyone is a bottle cap collector, but if it weren’t for social media, I would have thought I was the only one. Fortunately, social media opens up the wide world of niche hobbies. Even if you have more conventional interests, you can find people who know things about those interests that you never knew existed.
What’s more, you can find those people who share your interests and build lifelong friendships. In the past, your friends had to be the people who were around you. With social media, you can meet people around the world who share the same passions as you. These friendships can really encourage you and help you improve and develop what you love to do.
Get Real Takes on Current Events
A lot of people say that the news is scripted (I wonder why…), which is really frustrating. I’m trying to get genuine, authentic takes on the things that are happening around the world. Sadly, mainstream media does a pretty poor job at that, often sanitizing or outright covering up the things that it doesn’t want me to know.
Social media can often bypass those filters and let us find out what’s really going on. With conflicts around the world, it’s eye-opening to get a firsthand view of what people experience. I know that there’s always more context to be had, but I love getting an on-the-ground take as the starting point.
Become Inspired to Visit New Places and Try New Things
Say what you want about influencers, but they do a great job at making things look good. If you’re curious about where to go on vacation, there are plenty of influencers who’ve been to places that are sure to interest you. Interested in interior design? There’s an influencer for that. Like to try new restaurants? More influencers have you covered.
Even random posts will sometimes go viral, letting you know about something that you didn’t even know existed before (did someone say “tray full of cheesesteak“?). It’s these things that show up on your “recommended” or “for you” pages that are the true gems of social media.
Network in Professional Settings
As I got into my 20s, I found that social media was good for more than just wasting time. I struggled to get my footing in a career, getting stuck in part-time jobs for a while. Eventually, I realized that all the jobs I wanted to do were with people who had accounts. So, I went onto LinkedIn and discovered that there were people I could connect with there. All of a sudden, job opportunities and recruiters showed up in my inbox.
Before long, I learned about a job with upward mobility, and since then, I’ve established a career in operations management. Could I have gotten a steady job without social media? Yeah, probably, but I bet I’d be making less money and having less fun doing it. Another W for social media.
Expand the Dating Pool
There are a lot of people out there who find it hard to just start talking to strangers. If you’re like me, you’re feeling a little too seen right now. That’s okay! Social media has helped to expand the dating pool in ways that are a little more comfortable. While there are obviously dating apps like Bumble, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel, a lot of people connect through regular social accounts.
There’s a reason that “sliding into the DMs” is a thing and that’s because people want that personal contact. Whether for casual dating or long-term relationships, many an Instagram message has turned into a genuine connection. It’s still awkward to start a conversation out of nothing, though, but social media can even help you out with that.
I’ve Got a Problem with Social Media
But wait, there’s more? I have to admit there are some downsides to social media. Pretty much every positive part of social media has a negative part on the flip side. That’s just the nature of things, as social media is, at its core, just a tool. What matters is how we use it.
So, while it’s easier to stay in touch with friends, it’s possible to get too focused on those digital connections, even to the point of being unable to resist the urge to check out that notification despite already hanging out with people. Don’t be that person. You can also lose yourself in your online life while your real life is waiting for you to live it. There has to be a balance. Being more concerned about how you look in your posted photos than in the place you were in to take the picture or in how many likes you get instead of sitting back and enjoying some peaceful relaxation after a long day doesn’t make sense. Try to be aware and make sure your life is lining up with your real priorities.
Sure, we can learn new things and explore our interests, but there’s a negative version of that, too: mindlessly scrolling. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve lost endlessly scrolling through bad news when I should have been sleeping, studying, or cleaning up. All those new stories and posts are rapid-fire hits of dopamine, and to my ADHD brain, it’s almost too much to resist. If you don’t keep it in check, bad things can happen.
Those real takes? Sometimes they aren’t so real. Fake news exists, and a sensational story can get millions of views before it’s revealed to be manufactured. Astroturfing is also a thing, meaning post after post in support of a cause might just be another corporate ploy to get us hooked into another cash grab.
Online influencers can show us lots of things we don’t know about, but sponsored partnerships can drown out what’s authentic. Once someone starts getting millions of views, followers, or subscribers, a big corporate bullseye gets pasted on. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if the sponsored post is a great product or snake oil. Influencers themselves can also get scammed in the deal.
To be honest, I don’t really have anything negative to say about professional networking. That one’s solid—another W for social media.
The dating scene, however, is a breeding ground for all sorts of problematic behavior. Cyberstalking can be mild and something that we all do (like when I accidentally followed my ex’s Insta), but it can also be criminal. Online harassment is easier than ever, and blocking a cyberstalker doesn’t stop the person from creating a new account. Scamming is also pretty regular, as I can vouch. I’ve had a few too many 10s swipe right on me only to have the conversation veer hard into an irresistible “crypto investment” they want to sell me on.
Bringing It All Together
All in all, social media isn’t perfect but, given the option, I’d rather keep it in my life than do without it. I’ve been burned enough times that I know how to avoid the big pitfalls out there. I’ve also figured out ways that work for me to keep my time wasting to a minimum. I’ll admit that for some people, social media might be a bit too unhealthy. I’ve seen friends straighten out their lives after ditching social media entirely. On the other hand, I’ve seen other friends come out of their shells online and make incredible careers and start families thanks to social media. So, is social media good or bad? For me, the answer is a qualified “good.”
Now, where’d I put my phone?
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