Social Media: Now and Forever!

The Immediacy and Permanency of Social Media: Does One Trump the Other?

Brian M. Pete    

My Aunt Dollo did not use a telephone. She was born in 1890 in Billings, Montana and did not have a phone when growing up. In fact, she never owned a phone until the mid-sixties. Yet, even then, she did not favor the phone. She would say, in her sweet, passive-aggressive way, “If you don’t want to take the time to write me a nice letter, well then, that tells me something.”

I think that’s why my mother had all of us nine children take the time every year to write a letter to Aunt Dollo. The act of writing a letter on fine stationary was definitely a challenge. It took time and effort to plan what to say and to take care in writing every word without a mistake. When she passed away, all of these letters were found among her personal affects, meticulously sorted in shoeboxes and labeled in Aunt Dollo’s beautiful script. For Aunt Dollo, she understood that letter writing took time, but she valued the permanent record that was left. To her, conversations on the phone, while immediate and convenient, were too ephemeral, too fleeting.

I wonder what my Aunt Dollo would say today? Would she understand that advent of the telephone arrived at the speed of a glacier, while changes in modern times move at remarkable speeds that parallel the speed of light, have instant impact, accumulate incessantly and result in dramatic communication machinations in every sector of society? It’s fun to think about what Aunt Dolly might say about an email, tweet or Skype communications.

The state of communication affairs today across the scope of Social Media – texting messages, emailing communications, posting to blogs, Googling data, referencing web-sites, Skyping family members, Whatsapping friends, sharing photos on Facebook and Instagram is immediate and convenient, for sure, yet, this suite of media is more often than not, also, permanent and lasting. That said, I am convinced that social media is, without a doubt, a transformational form of communication. It is convenient, simple, yet, complex in its integrative applications. Think about how Social Media confirms entire transcripts of a conversation, details data-laden Excel sheets, and transmits photos, films, movies and YouTube clips in the blink of an eye. Indeed, all of these social interactions are not only used at a pace that is unfathomable, there arrive at their destinations with an unspoken, but entirely understood expectation of instant confirmations, replies and some immediate manner of acknowledgement from the recipient.

Imagine how many of us come from a time, not that long ago, really, of unheard and unanswered phone calls. We remember living in house that had a working telephone but before the home-based answering machine. In those simpler times, if we were out for the evening it was very possible our phone rang and rang as 5 very important phone calls were placed to our home phone. Our family returned home after our night out, everyone went to bed and somehow we were able to sleep all night, unaware of the missed calls, discovering what had occurred, only when we finally heard from the caller the next day.

Imagine, what it could be like again, with no sense of urgency, no nagging anxiety, no guilty feelings and no compelling narratives about why we did not react instantly. Today, people text someone in the middle of the day, and a minute later, they ask, “I just texted him and he didn’t reply. I wonder what’s happening!” Yet, I wonder, would we choose that past solitude and serenity over the social media craze that is part and parcel of every waking . . . and sleeping moment of our day? Probably, not.

It’s how we connect, communicate, survive and thrive. While some, often in the generations older than the Millennials and iGeneration, describe social media chat rooms as parties with stenographers, recording everyone’s comment forever, fearing the weight of permanency in these media sources. On the other hand, youngsters who jump from one media outlet to another faster than the adults can visualize, are aware but unshaken by the permanency factor.

Adults in our society, who may not even know the multiple names or functions of the most popular social media apps- Emojis, Dubsmash, Snapchats, Instagram, Vine, Pinterst, YikYak, Kik, Shots, Hyper, Bebo almost always begin every conversation about social media with these words of caution, “Remember, everything you post will be there forever!” Yet, what compels these younger generations of users is the immediacy, not the permanency.

The driving question with social media is: Does Immediacy Trump Permanency?

Does the glory of the connectivity, the intimacy, the excitement of media-rich messages outweigh the known and unknown, the obvious and hidden, the hilarious and hideous lurking within the social media networks- harassments, kidnappings, stalking, fraud and an arsenal of other demented transactions. The answer is that the younger demographics spotted around the globe, undoubtedly say, “Yes” or even more bolding, “Absolutely!” They know the dangers, yet they believe they are insulated from real risk and that these traps are entirely avoidable by the savvy-users that they are. And there is a hint of truth to that. However, as responsible adults-parents, teachers, advisors and siblings, friends or classmates, it behooves us all to enthusiastically acknowledge and embrace the glory of this social media revolution that is here. It is here to stay! It is constant, continual and invariably, this movement is picking up speed and taking up space in our lives as it frantically invades our world.

Yet, let’s be clear, it not for us to decide whether or not we embrace this unstoppable phenomenon. It is up to us to guide amazing turn of events in our communications across the world with wisdom, wit and wonderment. It is what it is and we are immersed in it, like it or not. So how do we best begin or continue to orchestrate the care, caution and the culture of safety. We do it with sensible safe guards- public awareness of current and emerging risks, personal conversations to build trust and open lines of communication and by creating cultures of collaboration, caring about others, and celebrating norms of alerting those who can help when help is needed. It’s okay to tell. In fact, it’s okay to tell when we need to tell, using any form of social media. Even the phone is okay. Aunt Dolly might even say, “When you choose to call for help, I know you care about someone dear.