Boon or bane?

By Gianna G. Maniego

RAISE your hand if the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is reach for your mobile phone. Raise both hands if it’s not just to check the time. (It’s okay to raise both hands, we won’t judge.)

If you did raise both hands, cheer up. You’re not alone.

dplus02a-080316While this kind of behavior may have seemed weird back in the day, for many of us living in the era of Facebook and Instagram, this attachment to the cell phone is not unusual.

In this age of social media, the cell phone, or whatever your wireless communication gadget of choice, has become a lifeline to the many relationships we have in our lives, whether you’re talking about actual family, friends and business associates, or online relationships, such as those you have on Twitter, Tumblr, or any other platform. Want to get an update on that family gathering your Aunt Bettina is planning? Check Facebook. Hiring an assistant and you need information on an applicant? Go to his LinkedIn profile, or Google him. Have a date tonight, and you don’t know where to go? Browse through your friends’ Instagram accounts for suggestions (there’s probably a food porn post to suit whatever you’re craving).

Thanks to this so-called social network, you can have all the answers you need in one click, sometimes without even having to invest or expose your own digital real estate.

In fact, raise your hand again if you treat social media as some sort of eight-ball guru who just might have the answers to all of life’s relevant questions (like, “What’s for dinner?,” “Where’s the party?” and “Who wore it better, Kim or Khloe?”).

Bet most of you did.

CONNECT, RECONNECT, DISCONNECT

TO say that social media—whose origins can perhaps be traced to the BBS (Bulletin Board System) from the late-1970s—has changed the way people communicate is an understatement. Since the launch of the first social-networking site, Geocities, in 1994, social media has changed the way people behave, react and interact toward each other.

For most of us, social media is a boon, because it helps us stay in touch with family, reconnect with long-lost friends, and keep us abreast with what is happening all over the world.  It also paves the way for an open exchange of ideas and maybe open up more avenues to forge stronger ties. “Social media has created a venue for people across the globe to communicate and keep in touch with families and friends in real time,” says Nannette Abreu, one of the top executives of a meat-distribution company. “It has also allowed people to openly share their feelings, opinions and thoughts about anything.”

Moreover, seeking connections with “mutuals” (individuals who have the same interests or points of view as you) from all over the world has enabled people to broaden their circle of friends.

For the less outgoing, this provides a big boost in confidence.

In the case of art student Sabrina Oliveros, who admits to being “70-percent introverted,” social-media platforms like Facebook have enabled her to reach out more and make connections. “My use of Facebook has had a good impact on my communication. It has helped me keep in touch/check in more, carry conversations, share myself more openly with my circle/unrestricted friends list,” she admits. “But I was never a ‘social’ person to begin with.”

Others, like Bernice Bautista, a producer for one of the leading broadcast networks, turn to social-media platforms like Snapchat to fill in social gaps.

“Snapchat is great for single people who have nobody to tell about their day. It’s also ideal for narcissists,” she says.

KINDER, GENTLER, NEEDIER

Because the connection is now made on a more personal level, people tend to be more casual and less awkward, even among business associates.

In an online article published in The New Times (http://goo.gl/zbVREO), Oscar Kimanuka noted that people are more likely to reveal more of themselves even in business because of social media. “A person will post details that they probably never would have called dozens of people over the phone or to their home to share. These little tidbits have opened up a whole new world of conversational opportunities when we see our friends in person.

“Before the advent of social media, jumping into a conversation about personal issues with a coworker may have felt awkward. Today, after seeing their pictures and posts online, however, it becomes much easier to broach the subject.”

One thing social media has encouraged, though, is the need for approval. A lot of people post messages, thoughts, impressions and photos in the hope of attracting favorable reaction. Validation comes in the form of likes, shares or retweets. “Because I know that the ‘audience’ has changed/grown bigger, and has access to the same communication/information tools that I have, I see how everything is prepared and presented on social media—always with the objective, conscious or not, of getting some form of approval from everyone else,” Bautista says.

(It is useful to note, however, that likes do not necessarily reflect the intelligence of a post/poster. Kim Kardashian and her sisters get millions of retweets and likes just by posting their butts.)

BEYOND BOUNDARIES

BUT while many of us see social media as a good thing in breaking down barriers and promoting interaction across all ages and boundaries, there are those who fear that it has actually enabled antisocial behavior. How many face-to-face interactions have taken a backseat to Snapchat conversations? As someone subjected to the sight of those dog filters on my timeline, I would say too many to count.

Because of social media, more and more people, especially those who are too lazy to go through conventional niceties (like dressing up and making oneself presentable to other parties), prefer to do their socializing with their keyboards.

And even when they’re physically present, there are those who are so immersed in their Twitter convos they forget to engage with the people around them. Anyone who has tried to start or maintain a conversation with someone focused on his mobile phone or laptop knows exactly what this means.

“In my case, engaging in social media hasn’t been as healthy for relating with others, because Facebook sometimes makes me lose all faith in human existence and hate the world [based on certain things I see on my newsfeed],” Oliveros says.

Because of its global and very public nature, social media leaves us vulnerable to trolls, cyberbullies, stalkers and keyboard warriors who have made it their life’s mission to make others miserable.

“In my case, it has turned me antisocial for security purposes,” says Bambi Yu, a chemical engineer. “I have to protect the privacy of my family.” “Social media has created a world where everyone has a sense of entitlement to freely say just anything. It has diminished one’s privacy, as anyone can access his or her posts, making one vulnerable to bashing and hurtful comments from those who do not share his views,” Abreu says.

At no time was this more apparent than in the run-up to the presidential elections in May, where followers of all the candidates took to Twitter and Facebook to bash candidates, as well as their supporters.

BOON OR BANE?

SO, is social media good or bad?

“Social media has some good points; however, it can turn bad, as it doesn’t have any boundaries so participants just say whatever they want and more often I’m seeing people argue over something trivial. For me, I prefer social media—but with a private group in which things can be discussed with people I know and respect,” says Annie Gacula, a psychiatric nurse.

Like everything else, there are pros and cons to every issue. The trick is to find the right balance. “I feel like social media, in general, is just so much noise, but once in a while you can pick up the voices worth listening to, including your own. And you can have actual conversations in the midst of chatter,” Oliveros says. ✚

 

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