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7/17/13 at 10:20 AM 0 Comments

Social Media: When You Are a Hammer

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Photo: Flickr/Jerry Swiatek - Creative Commons

When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. They call this maxim "Maslow’s hammer" and it is meant to make us consider the way we use our tools. Tools like hammers and tools like Twitter and Facebook. The fact is, we live with and through our tools and in some way are almost inseparable from them. Our self-understanding and the way we view the world is always closely tied to the means through which we experience life.

Social media is one of our newest tools and in its near-omnipresence it has quickly become one of the most powerful and one of the most important. It is our new hammer and when we hold that hammer it causes us to see all of life's experiences as nails.

Social media has had the strange effect of changing the way we experience life. It quietly convinces us that the value of an experience is not inherent; rather, the value of an experience is relative to its social media usefulness. This is true not only for the things we do, but the thoughts we think and the facts we learn and even the Bible verses we read. We begin to rank everything in relation to its value as news. We deem these things valuable if we can somehow package them up through social media, share them with others, and receive the feedback of our friends and followers.

And so a valuable experience is one I can distill to 140 characters and tweet, or one I can photograph and share through Instagram, or one I can record on Facebook. An experience I can't capture and share is one that just isn't all that interesting or important. As I go about life my mind is constantly asking, "Can I tweet this?" "Can I instagram this?" "How can I get this onto Facebook?" The hammer is always looking to pound a new nail.

Pause & Apply: Some experiences are too full to distill to 140 characters and too rich to capture in a photo. Sharing such experiences through social media serves only to cheapen them. Do not allow yourself to ruin a beautiful moment by seeing it primarily as an opportunity to share it with strangers.

Social media, then, has a way of commoditizing life's experiences, of giving them this strange new sense of value. And once they have such value, it should come as no surprise that I want to share as many of them as possible and as widely as possible. After all, the size of your audience and the depth of their engagement represents wealth in a social media world.

Now we dump all of this news, information, reflection, photography, and everything else into our social media channels and from there into other people's lives. We assume that if it is important to us, it must be important to them as well. We want them to validate our experiences with their likes, their retweets, their shares, their comments. The hammers pound all around us.

Pause & Apply: Social media may be one of the only areas in life where you will say anything and everything and demand that others filter the useful from the superfluous. One way to love and respect others (in other words, to carry out the second great commandment) is to say less, to ensure that what you say and what you share will matter not only to you, but to them as well.

Hammers are useful tools, but only if used for the right purpose; there is nothing better than a hammer for driving nails, but nothing worse for cleaning glass or scratching a back. When it comes to social media, we need to learn to use the hammer rather than be the hammer.

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