Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interdependence and the Social Media

I am back with the question I asked on March 9: does social media deter or enhance interdependence? Or, as originally stated, does true interdependence require real, face-to-face social interaction?

** First, however, I must make full disclosure: I have been known to use the email (and v-mail for that matter) as a tool to avoid social contact and, if I am totally honest, to have more control over the messiness that can occur in face-to-face interactions. Electronic media helps me, to a certain extent, avoid intimacy. Thus twisted logic is born: because I do, everyone else does, resulting in my current bias against.

When I posed the question on March 9, “Bonnie” replied in the comment section:

“I find [Facebook] great to relate on some level to friends and family who live in other parts of the world, and who I don't have a face to face, telephone or even e-mail connection with very often. It helps us be a part of each other's life …”

Okay, that makes sense, “being a part of each other’s life” fits one aspect of interdependence, that of community. I come from the perspective that we are all interconnected (whether we acknowledge it or not) and if social media can help us feel those bonds then that is a positive in my books. But what of the other parts of interdependence: respect, mutuality and leadership? What about the fourth component that we played with on March 11 — simplicity?

Let’s deal with them in order. First off, is social media a respectful communication tool? If left unrestrained I would say no. Then again, isn’t that true of other sources of communication? We don’t, for example, write confidential information on the back of postcards or have embarrassing photos in the inner flap of our wallets or on our office computer screensaver. And who hasn’t wanted to tell their cell phone talking bus mate that their sex life isn’t all that interesting. All forms of communication require some form of boundary that draws the line at not only what is said but how, when and to whom it is said. That is, of course, if we want it to be respectful.

Is there mutuality to social media? Mutuality, as used here, is about mutual gain or, at minimum, an interaction in which no one is hurt or loses energy. Facebook may increase positive social connections (a mutual gain) but it can also be used as a tool to bully. Like other forms of communication, it depends on intent. We can have meaningful conversation or we can gossip; one way enhances the other hurts. A political example comes from the use of social media in mass protest movements. This was seen quite dramatically in Iran in 2009, and recently with Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Lev Grossman of Time Magazine wrote:

“… Twitter practically [is] ideal for a mass protest movement, both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. ... On June 13 [2009], when protests started to escalate, and the Iranian government moved to suppress dissent both on- and off-line, the Twitter verse exploded with tweets from people who weren't having it, both in English and in Farsi.”

Then again, what’s good for the citizen may be a loss for the government. Mutuality can be subjective and perhaps best left in the hands of historians to debate. And, going back to intent, who is to judge that what is being said is truth? As Grossman continues:

“As is so often the case in the media world, Twitter's strengths are also its weaknesses. The vast body of information about current events in Iran that circulates on Twitter is chaotic, subjective and totally unverifiable. It's impossible to authenticate sources.”

Perhaps a more easily defended example of positive mutuality is how Facebook and Twitter provided relief for loved ones looking for lost relatives in Japan this past week.

“Less than an hour after the quake, the number of tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute, according to Tweet-o-Meter. An interactive graphic created by Facebook to illustrate status updates related to the quake shows Japan’s activity on Facebook during that day was also high.” (source:

And now we come to leadership, a key factor in interdependence. We discussed above how intent seems to be what keeps social media and other forms of communication an interdependent process. For the underlying intent to be respectful to self and others, and a tool for positive mutuality, there must be integrous self leadership.

As I disclosed at the beginning of this blog I sometimes use email and v-mail to avoid real interaction. In those instances I am not in integrity with those of whom I am relating. I am lacking in self leadership for I am allowing the parts of me that want to hide to be in charge. This is not to say that I should talk when I don’t feel like talking but that I should also not fool myself in believing I am creating community by hiding behind a computer. Another example of this is in on-line protests movements like petitions. In a review by The Guardian Weekly (Feb 4.11), Evgeny Morozov was quoted from his book, Net Delusion: How not to liberate the world

“The internet … is breeding a generation not of activists but of “slacktivists”, who think that clicking on a Facebook petition counts as a political act and who dissipate their energies on a thousand distractions.”

If signing on-line petitions is a way of comforting our self into believing we are doing the best in making the world a better place, we are not in integrity with our beliefs. On-line petitions have little pull compared with a posted letter to the government or the newspaper editor, donated money, volunteer work or peaceful marches. While it is a step in the right direction when done in isolation on-line petitions becomes another way to shield ourselves from what it means to live interdependently in community.

Finally, we add in simplicity. When communication gets complicated it generally means our codependent parts are in play. When we try to formulate our interactions with others so to consciously, or unconsciously, manipulate them to like, help, respect, be fearful of, or protect us, we not only disrespect all parties involved but we complicate the issue. We do things in reference to the other without honestly acknowledging our own needs and feelings. Instead of saying “I am lonely” we try to somehow make another need us so they will stay or love us; instead of stating our anger we project anger onto others or act passive aggressively; and instead of showing our vulnerabilities, we project fear into others to control or keep them at a distance.

Honest communication begins with self. If we are in integrity with our feelings, beliefs and actions, we have a higher potential to respectfully act on those feelings and beliefs regardless of how we choose to communicate. Interdependence has its origins within that internal honesty — that clear intent to live in integrity … simple as that.

No comments:

Post a Comment