Wake up. Tweet about how tired you are. Make a green juice smoothie for breakfast. Post a picture of it on Instagram. Check the news. Share an article and post your own commentary on Facebook. See a picture of your ex and their new boo on Facebook and post a rant on Tumblr. Tl;dr: For members of our generation, it is second nature to share our lives with others through social networking sites.
Some people criticize this practice, lamenting the end of privacy and scold sharers for their apparent desire for unyielding attention. However, these mediums provide an outlet for emotion, opportunities for friendship and a vehicle for change.
Emotions can be uncomfortable to talk about. Sometimes people avoid them or keep them private, and that’s not a healthy way to process sentiments. Cue the importance of social media when sharing feelings, ideas, and goals with legions of connections, followers, and friends. With sites like Tumblr, Reddit, and Facebook, those once troubled by an emotional clogging have an outlet that allows them to comfortably unload.
Search ‘note card confessions’ on Youtube and over 3,000 videos show up as results, illustrating just how strong the need is for an emotional outlet. These videos, which involve writing down personal facts on index cards, and, without speaking, presenting them one by one to the camera, have a large online following. The sequences can go from “My name is Janet and I am 15” to “I have been battling depression for five years.” Not only do these intensely personal videos allow individuals to release secrets that may have been weighing them down, they are also often met with a community of similar sharers that can provide support and assistance.
These social platforms can also be the foundation for genuine friendships. Some people cannot find others in their local communities who wholly accept and embrace them. Through social media, it is possible to create these friendships even based around specific criteria. One of my high school teachers met her husband playing online Scrabble. Another friend had a secondary, anonymous Twitter account that allowed her to interact with a boy band fan community; what some considered her weird obsession made her popular in that social group. The internet allows people on the outskirts of society to find their own “in crowd.”
The viral, widespread nature of these social media communities means that there is more opportunity for the organization of social and political campaigns. The summer’s trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls mobilized emotional responses to the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria by a militant Islamist movement. Celebrities, politicians, and regular citizens were brought together by their online demands for the girls to be returned while airing their dismay at the radical group’s actions. Similarly, the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown Twitter campaign is also another prime example of social media’s ability to connect not only individuals, but groups of people. Hundreds of students at Howard University, a historically black college, posted pictures posed as a group as a part of the effort to raise awareness of the unneccessary force police sometimes use on minority suspects or private citizens.
The fact that social media is used as an emotional outlet, a vehicle for friendship or tool for social change, suggests that we feel we are missing something in the physical realm. It does not mean that our communication skills are deteriorating, but rather says that they are evolving to become more inclusive. It is inclusive in the sense that shy, awkward, and socially shunned people can now make use of mediums that free them of those shackles. But it is also inclusive in terms of breadth, since social media allows us to talk to people from other cultures we normally would not be able to reach.
All of these things may not negate the fact that it’s annoying to sit at the dinner table and watch our friends idly scroll through Facebook rather than engage in conversation. However, when those retweets and hashtags on social media are revealed as something more than a mere dependence, that post to Facebook during dinner becomes a lot less irritating.