On any given week, you can run across videos or blog posts or Twitter threads by someone laying out the dangers of social media (without any hint of irony over the fact that they're using social media to make their argument). Whether is someone like Cal Newport with Deep Work pointing out that our brains need empty tracts of time in which to ruminate and to think, or some guru du jour pointing out that social media is stealing your most creative self by filling you full of algorithm-curated images and ideas designed to keep you scrolling for more.
It may be true that social media can have a negative impact on our mental health and it seems to feed FOMO - fear of missing out. But in a world were technology is designed to solve problems (albeit problems you maybe didn't know you had) social media, appropriately handled, has its uses.
1. Connection - technology has given me the power to have friends in places I have never been and where I am likely to never get to go. Yet we swap stories, recipes, and care about what's happening in one another's lives.
2. Tribe - social media brought me to my tribes - the people whose priorities and concerns match my own. Social media allows me access to those families that would otherwise be denied. Those of you young enough to have never lived in a world without internet, let me say it's damned alienating. Social media is a gift that gives you back some small measure of validation by hooking you up with other people who relate to your lived experience. Granted. We're seeing the down side of that as social media platforms count the cost of giving White Nationalists safe places to radicalize. It's also giving voice to the resistance and to calls for political action.
3. Conversation - at it's best, social media gives us a few moments out of every day to engage in conversations that have the power to change our view of the world or of ourselves.
So how to keep up?
First, decide if it matters to you. Are you indulging in FOMO? Or do you genuinely have an unmet need that technology might be able to fill? Make certain to count the cost of privacy loss as you're evaluating. Be aware that you're nothing but a data point to be bought, sold, and tracked. Your political leanings are absolutely inferred whether you banish all political content or not. Factor that into your decisions.
Second, listen to kids, especially teenagers and twenty-somethings. Keep your ears open in the coffee shops. You'll hear what apps and platforms people are using. Then search on 'em. Want to know how to master something? Search YouTube. I swear to you there are How-To videos on THE most arcane subjects.
Third, ask questions of social media. Search for the demographics of the places you hang out. Know that Facebook caters to an older crowd. Twitter is slightly younger. Quora seems to have a good mix of ages and knowledge bases. But once you know that, you can ask what new stuff is getting used - are teens still on WhatsApp? Or have they moved on? You'll get answers from their parents, and from the teens themselves.
Four, check out the technology blogsites. Most of them write mostly about computer science and robotics, but you will still find articles about new social media platforms, usually with solid run downs of the pros and cons of each. Sometimes they even include demographics.
As always. Keep in mind that you use social media. Don't let it use you.