A couple months ago, I experimented with social media by simply “listening” for a day. I didn’t post anything, but I scrolled through my Facebook feed and my Twitter stream like I regularly do. Listening without the expected next action of responding or liking or sharing takes you out of the equation and lets you view the content you are seeing with a different perspective. What I saw was rather shocking. Overwhelmingly, there was a great negative pall over my online reality. Most common was the update or tweet that offered up a complaint about something. Politicians were a common target. The government was a common target. The state of the world as seen through an individual’s perspective was of course also present. In stepping back, I of course realized I’m just as guilty of contributing to that smoggy cloud as anyone. I lament the state of the world. I lament that there are genocides going on that nobody seems to care about. I lament that people are more concerned about the next iPhone than they are about the shaky economic forecasts gathering for 2013.
Humans, as a rule, like to feel better when they don’t feel good. This traces back to our childhood. When you fell down you went to your mommy because you knew she’d make it better. When you are stressed about your job, you go running or eat a tub of ice cream, or both, because you know it will make you feel better. But I discovered another interesting thing as I listened for a day. People who complain on social media platforms don’t seem to want to be comforted. We want to complain. We want our complaints to be validated by likes or retweets. We want to stir up the fire but we don’t want to put the fire out.
After viewing the negativity that surrounds my online presence, I decided to try to make a conscientious effort to turn potential negatives into positives. To me, it seems like we most often identify social media as a voice amplifier. If we have a complaint, we can reach a lot more people with it thanks to social media platforms. But in thinking about it, social media can be a lot more than that. Social Media, if we let it, can be an action amplifier. It can be the spark that lights a fire of positive change instead of a fire of negativity that creates a lot of choke-inducing smoke. If there is something you are unhappy about, social media offers you an unprecedented opportunity to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
There are countless examples of people who have started to use social media to create positive change. Mark Horvath’s InvisiblePeople.TV is a fantastic example of this. The power of social media enables Mark to give a voice to the homeless of our country. Scott Stratten used social media in the #tutusforTanner effort a few years ago because he didn’t like that a family was struggling to fulfill their boy’s desperate last wish. He could have just written up a blog post about it or lamented the situation on Facebook. Instead, he did something about it. Dan Perez uses social media to share his videos to raise awareness, his latest effort being a focus on kids struggling with Dravet Syndrome. Razoo uses the power of social media integrated with offline efforts and in doing so, they have helped raise millions of dollars for causes across the country.
The list goes on.
Sadly, the majority of the people who complain the most and the loudest seldom participate in these kinds of efforts. However, if enough people shift the focus from “I can complain” to “I can change this,” I think everyone will eventually be swept into the tide, and those that staunchly refuse will increasingly be seen as people who simply want to be miserable.
We live in tumultuous times. Complaining is easy, especially with social media and technology advancing like they are. Fighting with people we may never have to meet in real life is one way we can choose to spend our time. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather reign in the power of this new means of communication and use it to improve the things that need to improve.
What do you say? Are you in?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/minimalisation/7942393032/ via Creative Commons