I admit to loving technology. Anything with an “i” in front of it excites me and social media gets me kind of jazzed. It isn’t that I can’t live without these things (I did for the entirety of my youth and for most of my young adult life), it’s just that they make connecting so much more convenient. They allow me to connect in ways that would otherwise be impossible given the pace of our modern society. (After all, how many of us really have time to have a face-to-face dialogue with most of our friends on a regular basis?)
Recently, however, I found a new use for this technology. For weeks, many of us had watched the final stages of our friend’s journey through life. In the end, it was through his Facebook page that his family notified us of his departure. And it was through his Facebook page that many of us who had never met, had the opportunity to share in the memory of a singularly extraordinary life.
There was something cathartic in the experience as individuals scattered across the country began to post their memories. Pictures, stories, and comments on each other’s reminiscences drew us together. In a sense, the page became a portrait of my friend’s life, a testament to an impact which I’m not sure he realized he’d had while he was still with us. Each “friend” shared the tale of a life changed because of his presence. And we found a sense of community as we grieved his loss together.
For some, this modern form of connecting via social media is a tragedy. It is viewed as a substitute for substantial and meaningful relationships. It is a medium through which anger, hate, and ignorance are too easily channeled. It is a place to express the narcissism and emptiness which are so common in our world today.
For others, however, social media is an invitation to community. It is an opportunity to play a significant role in the lives of others with whom our paths rarely (if ever) cross otherwise. It is a chance to build up, encourage, and support those around us as they share the joys and tragedies which so often go unmentioned in normal social settings.
Which is true? I would argue both. Social media in and of itself is neutral. Like time, money, or an education, it can be used for evil or for good. It can destroy or build up, bring doubt or faith, portray ignorance or knowledge, deepen the sense of isolation or create a connected community. Which of these it does is entirely up to us. And I choose the latter.