For those of us living and breathing on multiple social media platforms every day, it can seem like it’s just a normal part of life that has been around forever. But in truth it — as a concept — is barely a decade old. Facebook launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006. Since then, different media capitalizing on connectivity and relationships have exploded, and it’s no easy task keeping up with all the latest platforms.
It’s almost hard to believe that such a nascent phenomenon has had such a fundamental and world-changing impact. But it has. The way we follow events, digest news and inform others about life events — both big and small — has changed dramatically.
Likewise, social media has created an entirely new branch of evangelization efforts. In February, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis’ Twitter followers exceed 27 million. Most dioceses and archdioceses have a presence on social media, as well as full-time staff members to support their efforts. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Catholic publication, apostolate, parish or even small faith group that does not use social media to share information or content. It is an undeniable and already highly valuable way to communicate the Faith to others.
But even if one primarily uses social media as a tool for evangelization, it doesn’t mean one is exempt from its potential pitfalls. Studies say that the average American checks social media at least once an hour — and even more for select age groups. A recent report by Facebook said that the average user spends 50 minutes a day surfing inside the application. I think probably most of us can relate to thumbing through a Facebook feed “just because” or searching Twitter lists while sitting at stoplights. Maybe social media is the first thing we check when we wake up in the morning or the last thing we look at when we go to sleep at night? If this is sounding a bit too familiar, maybe it’s time for a social media cleanse? Perhaps, too, it would be valuable to take a step back and looking at what we’re posting on social media and why, particularly when it comes to family life.
OSV Newsweekly’s two-part In Focus series titled “A Family’s Guide to Social Media” can offer such an opportunity. Beginning this week (Pages 9-12, online June 5), it can provide a terrific way to jump-start a conversation on social media with yourself, with a loved one or with your whole family. The series takes a hard look both at the social media habits of kids and the those of parents — covering such topics as: 1) how much sharing is too much sharing; 2) how to use social media tools more wisely; and 3) how to be discerning about the amount of time young people should be spending on devices.
I hope both pieces provide valuable food for thought for all social media users, and I look forward to hearing if and how it helped start a conversation within your own family.