When you read the phrase "social network," what do you think of - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Tiktok? Is your first thought that it is past time to post some fresh pictures or read what your friends are doing and thinking?
The dictionary definition of a social network agrees: a dedicated website or other application that enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc.
Notably, that is the second definition listed for the phrase, social network. The first explanation is the one that seems to be lost to many of us today: a network of social interactions and personal relationships.
For many in America (the only country I can speak of with confidence), the first definition has been lost in the chatter and bustle of a permanently connected electronic leash between us and others. We are all familiar with the reality of the 24-hour-a-day nature of news and information. The gap between something happening and everyone made aware of it is measured in seconds or minutes.
I read an article on HuffPost a few years ago about a growing business: electronic detox. Attendees of these conferences are not allowed a cell phone, laptop, or tablet use for the weekend. The goal is twofold: to dramatically demonstrate how addicted many of us are to these devices and to teach someone to physically talk with and respond to another human being face-to-face.
Not surprisingly, the article mentioned the relatively high dropout rate of attendees. After just a few hours, the desire to check for messages or text someone was too strong to deny. You can certainly appreciate the irony of texting someone that you are at a weekend retreat to break the hold electronics has on you.
I removed myself from Twitter several years ago. While I maintain a presence on Facebook, my participation in the regular flow of messages and videos is minimal; the snarky, vulgar, and nasty stuff affects my attitude throughout the day. I felt motivated to respond in kind.
I get requests to join someone's LinkedIn network once a month or so, but I politely decline. While I occasionally look at Pinterest to get some fresh ideas for painting, it would take too much of my time to participate in a meaningful way. Instagram? TikTok? Nope.
Social Media can be anonymous. The name chosen to represent someone is usually not the person's real name. Even a picture may be of someone else. With that comes a problem. It is too easy to hide behind a made-up name and spew hate or slurs with impunity.
Though we tend to think of younger folks using social media to settle scores or degrade someone, I doubt if age is a reliable test. During the last election season, Twitter, Facebook, and I assume other sites were positively toxic at times, and it seemed clear that many of the participants were from our age group.
Even if you'd never consider sending messages like that, just reading them can be upsetting and depressing. It is vital that we steer clear of reading things that are designed to add stress to our lives or cause us to react in a negative way.
In retirement, my loner nature pretty much continues. I can "behave" well in social situations. I smile, listen to others and affirm someone else whenever I can. But, I just find making many new friends to be hard work. I have lots of acquaintances and "Hi, neighbor" type exchanges, but few close relationships.
Blogging has been good for me in this regard. I have met several new people in person who are either fellow bloggers or readers. I find those exchanges to be quite satisfying.
I think as we get older, friendship becomes more difficult at precisely the time they are needed the most. Work relationships fall away. For many years, those we have known move away, get sick or die. Adult kids have their own lives and families, so interaction time diminishes.
There are solutions. Join a club or a group that focuses on an activity you like. Become more active in your church or spiritual community, something more than an hour on a Sunday morning. Volunteer in such a way that you interact with people. Use things like Zoom or Marco Polo to stay in touch with friends who live too far away to see anymore. Of course if your personality type leans toward being a loner, then those simple ideas don't hold much appeal or seem to work well.
Many of my posts urge you to live your life your way. The retirement journey is personal and unpredictable. Part of the reason it is so much fun is that change is a constant. Yes, there may be periods of boredom or staleness, as I well know. But, overall, the experience for most of us is quite positive.
So, my question to you is this: social networks and interactions can be positive. The benefits of being with others are well documented.