People are spending a growing amount of their time on social media sites. Photo: (Source unknown)
I look up from my phone to take a sip of coffee. Around the table, I notice that the faces of each of my friends is buried in their phones. In fact, almost every face in the restaurant is bathed in the reflected glow of smart phone screens.
Have we all turned into phone zombies? Or are we still humans, just connecting in different ways?
People spent more than five-and-a-half hours on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter in December 2009, according to a study by The Nielsen Company conducted across 10 countries. Evidence suggests that the amount of time devoted to social media continues to grow — total time was up 37 per cent among users in the Unites States in July 2012 compared to the previous year. Clearly social media, aided by the ever-handy medium of mobile phones, gets a great deal of our attention these days.
What does that really mean for us, though? Is it healthy — to carry on so much of our interaction virtually while the friends and family around us do the same? Is it safe — posing for a hundred selfies, revealing aspects of our lives to people we have otherwise never met and perhaps don’t even know? Is it responsible — stating our thoughts willy-nilly so that they may be recorded in cyberspace forever without first filtering them?
The truth is, social networking is not all bad. Maybe sometimes we’re not looking into our friend’s eyes when we click “like” on their photo, or posting agreement with their comment. But we are expressing appreciation and that matters just as much.
We may not be close enough to cut a cake with a long distance friend, but we can tweet them a loving birthday wish. We might even connect deeply with a stranger’s blog, and realise that we have something meaningful to say as a comment. Whether we are outspoken or reserved, shy or friendly, the Internet won’t judge us, so we feel free to use it to express ourselves.
However, as with any freedom, this one comes with responsibility. Irresponsible behaviour on social media can affect relationships with friends and family. It can also impact education and career paths, as employers and others increasingly conduct background checks through social media.
Here are some questions that can help reflect on what it means to be responsible on social media:
Who are you posting for?
Anyone with a laptop, a tablet, or even just a phone can see your post. Whether it’s a picture or a comment, it’s not just accessible to your friends. It will be seen by your friends’ mothers, your mother’s friends, your teachers, future employers, the government, the police, people who love you, people who hate you, and people who don’t even know you but will still judge you by it.
So unless you are sure that what you are posting represents you without putting you at a disadvantage, do not post it. The lack of physical interaction provides a false sense of security — don’t fall for it!
Whose posts are you reading?
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