July 25, 2012

Socially Awkward Uses of Social Media

By Andrew at 12:50 PM

Social media has long been an area that I have been uncomfortable with. I would much rather interact with friends and family through one-on-one contact than through the mass broadcast of information. But I think I have finally figured out what it is that makes me the most uncomfortable: social media is the electronic form of peer pressure.

Social media is a great way for people to let distant friends and family know about life, interests, and activities. It is very similar to blogging and, prior to the internet, letter-writing. But where it breaks down is the point when it starts to be used for asking or telling about how or what to do in a given situation. Wait, but is that not one of the main benefits of social media? It lets you learn about products and situations from the experience and opinions of others, right?
Unfortunately, even if many people agree on a subject, it is not automatically the best choice or even morally “right.” It is NOT automatically wrong, but it can easily overwhelm any other investigation you may otherwise have conducted into a topic. It is much more difficult to walk upstream than it is to walk into a drop of rain and then decide for yourself whether or not to go back indoors.
Consider how people decide about what to do on a Friday evening. Perhaps someone just wants to go see a movie, but after asking the question through social media venues, friends beg them to go with them to a music festival for the weekend instead. It is a great festival, and in reality, they would enjoy the opportunity to hang out with friends and hear some great bands. Unfortunately, they just had to pay for major car repairs, leaving them with barely enough cash to pay next month’s rent. But it will work out, though, right? It becomes a case of peer-pressure.
Instead of going to the masses with questions, we instead need to go to people we trust for feedback on issues. And we always must filter even these results on our own, after hearing what others say. The people we choose to ask will necessarily depend on the question. For example, I would probably not ask my friend who is a cashier at a fast-food restaurant what I should eat to prepare for a marathon. Instead I would ask another friend, a nutritionist, to see what they would suggest. And I am not required to take their advice in the end, necessarily, even if they are “experts” in their field. We are all wrong at times, but that is why we ask multiple trusted people intentionally and evaluate for ourselves, rather than enquiring en masse and randomly.
It all comes down to trust. Sure, I can hear a large quantity of feedback and choose what the majority thinks, but I would be much better served by asking a few friends with whom I have a personal relationship with and can more accurately interpret and trust what they have to say. We ultimately cannot have others make decisions for us. But decision-making becomes much clearer and much more relevant when we trust the opinions of those we know rather than the opinions of the unknown masses.

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