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No, social media has its advantages

There has been a spate of chatter lately that social media has made us less or even anti-social. Nothing, in my opinion, is further from the truth. In fact I would say that social media has fostered relationships and a sense of community amongst us, transcending barriers of age, distance, time, language, socio-economic status and, even for that matter, celebrity status. It is a rite of passage for any celebrity these days to have a twitter account and a Facebook page.

Personally, my life has been enriched by Facebook—I have reconnected and stay in active touch now with many of my high school friends, many that I have not even seen for the last 25 years, with extended family—far flung from different corners of the globe, and with many of my local friends.

I enjoy knowing what they are all up to on a daily basis, to the extent they are willing to share, and for them to know details of my life as well.  It is truly an amazingly connected feeling when I post my child’s basketball game win and hear back from so many people, within seconds, from as far as India or France with a “like” or a comment, or to be able to respond similarly to what my friends and family want to share with me.

All of this used to happen very sporadically with far fewer people, prior to Facebook. We were limited to physical visits, letter writing, emailing or calling on the phone.  It is not unusual these days to meet someone in a party and recall that you have seen the person on a friend’s FB wall, initiate a conversation, and gain a new friend in the process. As David Kirkpatrick says in his book The Facebook Effect—“It can make communication more efficient, cultivate familiarity, and enhance intimacy.”

For students, researchers, social activists and public health and safety personnel, social media has been a godsend, making instantaneous and wide scale collaborations and information sharing possible, with the alerts saving lives in disaster situations.

Social media provides a global platform for talent in the arts—Justin Bieber launched himself on YouTube when he was barely 12 and is today a music icon. Many Indian musicians regularly use social media to the mutual benefit of their fans as well.. The famous Karnatik musicians Ranjani-Gayathri said it best in a recent interview with The Hindu: “There’s a certain distance when we perform on stage, and on our FB page we are trying to collapse that wall. It’s a way to connect with the fans in a more intimate setting where they get to know us and our music better.”  Amitabh Bachchan  blogs and posts on Facebook daily sharing the highlights of his day. Social media has allowed an average Joe to socialize even with the creme de la crème of society!

Much like the advent of the telephone helped connect people, today’s social media have taken that ability to stay in touch to a totally different scale and realm, enriching our lives.

Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.

Yes, social media is harmful

Out of sight is out of mind as the saying goes. In other words,  there is a guarantee of attention and intimacy when we are close together.

In general, a more in depth relationship and understanding can result from physical  presence and proximity. This has been the foundation for many of society’s structures like the family unit, schools, colleges and close knit skunkworks teams that have produced amazing innovations. Social media turns this forumula on its head.

For one, outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr take a toll on time and and engender compulsive habits.

It is estimated that 120 billion minutes were spent in July 2012 on social media in the United States.  This was a 37% increase over the previous year.  This compares to rougly 850  billion minutes of television viewing.

Many companies have installed software to monitor social media usage.  Gartner estimates that 60% of companies will have some form of social media activity monitoring software at the workplace. Digital trends indicate that more time is spent on tracking and keeping up with the Joneses, since there are many more Joneses to keep up with now for social media users.

It is as if the social media user is always in a crowd and life is an endless party. Social media is rampant with examples of mindless behavior, including bragging, bad language, exhibitionism and a desperation to please. According to a study by the University of Salford in the U.K., over 50% of social media users indicated that it caused a negative effect to their personal lives, including poor self-esteem issues.

News organizations have started screening blogs for news content.  In an ever dwindling world of beat reporters this trend is diluting the news even more.  Since the content of social media is user generated it is not checked or verified.  Nevertheless it is in print and has the ring of authenticity.  What makes it worse is that it is 24/7 and instantaneous.  This was evident in the recent flash crash when the Associated Press twitter feed was hacked resulting in a fake tweet reporting that White House was attacked and the POTUS injured.  This fictitious event caused a temporary drop in the stock market.

Social media companies and subsidiaries are negligible employers at best. Neither are these companies returning value to their share holders.  This was evident in the Facebook IPO and dismal performance of its stock and fallout thereafter.  This is perhaps because they don’t add value to society. In other measurable metrics, productivity gains of late have been fairly low even with the high unemployment.  All the time spent on this new distraction at the workplace perhaps has something to do with it?

Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.