I got together with a bunch of old friends last summer. We don’t see each other very often because we live on three different continents.
But we do hang out on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes we tweet (I do a bit too much of it), or we share photos on Instagram. We use Kik! or WhatsApp for texting.
One evening during our get-together we were sitting around the dinner table, all of us staring at our smart phones. One of us looked up and pointed out the paradox: “And they call this social media,” he said. We all laughed.
I wrote a book on Twitter last year together with journalist Tuomas Enbuske, but I had never thought of what social media means for our social patterns. Are we anti-social by being on social media? Yes and no.
Now I fully admit that I am a bit of a smart phone addict. I am on it constantly, often much to the dismay of family and friends. Sometimes answering e-mails, at other times checking out the news scene or tweeting.
I guess I can always say that I am working, but that’s not true. Sometimes I just surf for the sake of surfing. That means that I am physically present in the room, but my mind is somewhere else.
I have noticed this tendency in professional circumstances, too. The bigger the meeting, the more fingers seem to be flicking on various screens. Hands up if you have not been surfing the net during a boring meeting?
We adults are pretty quick to tell kids to go offline. Some even say that our youth are losing the capacity to be social because they are always on a tablet, computer or smart phone. I beg to differ.
In my experience kids are much more open, polite and social than in my youth. Yes, a group of friends might be sitting in the same room staring at their phones. But more often than not they are sharing a thought, engaging in a conversation or playing a game together. That, in my mind is a different way of being social.
The key is to find a balance between the social and the media. Gadgets help us stay in touch wherever we are, but we should not detach ourselves from where we actually are. The same goes for polite behaviour. There is some rather offensive stuff on social media. It’s as if people feel that they’re not talking to fellow human beings when they’re online.
Think again. Social media is like being in a living room with other people and one should behave accordingly. After dinner with my three friends we sat down, put the smart phones away and talked about when we were kids. No computers, no tablets, not even mobile phones. Nostalgia. Those were the days, we thought. But boy, were we happy that these days were even better!
We agreed to keep in touch through social media as we continue our lives on different continents. At the same time we set a moratorium for using smart phones that same evening. Instead, we just talked face-to-face, and that sure felt good.