The social network bugaboo: being connected isn't all bad

Social networking is the next great bugaboo, being pegged as the sole source of this generation's seemingly inevitable (not to mention unfounded) decline into self-obsession and isolation. It has been called a great threat, a facilitator of narcissism. Critics say social networking in its many varied forms will lead to a sort of deconstruction of society, an ironic twist on its social-centric underpinnings. Is it all really so bad, this ever-present reality of social connections in an often solely-digital form?

The answer, of course, is it depends. It certainly is possible to use social networking in an unhealthy or unhelpful manner. We've all seen the PSAs, the so-called selfie addict who was driven to attempt suicide in his quest for the perfect self-snapshot. While such happenings are outliers in the grant scheme of things, studies have surfaced indicating negative issues caused by being connected in a digital world: anxiety resulting from an inability to check status updates and the "mobile mindset" are two of them.

Accordingly, people latch on to these studies, hailing them as a prime example of why joining Facebook or downloading Instagram will lead to all sorts of woes.

Everyday reality is far more complex, however, and fair attention isn't often given to the other half of the equation: the positive half. For all the wrongs social networking might bring about, nothing about social networking in and of itself is bad, and it has been the source of quite a bit of good.

Social media in general has been credited with reshaping how disaster relief efforts take place, as an example. In a statement to the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications last year the Internet Association's CEO Michael Beckerman said, "The convergence of social networks and mobile has thrown the old response playbook out the window."

Messages can be delivered to vast quantities of people with little effort, and accordingly individuals caught up in a disaster have additional ways to reconnect with each other. News is transmitted over social networks — Twitter in particular — faster than media networks can announce it. Even more beneficial is how the exchange of information by those on the ground help agencies pinpoint issues, form strategies, and more.

In the same vein, not all studies related to social networking portray negative outcomes. Common Sense Media conducted a research study on teens and their usage of social networks like Facebook, and amongst the findings say that, "Many more teens report a positive impact of social media use on their emotional well-being than a negative one." Many reported feeling less shy and more outgoing because of social networks, with slightly less numbers saying it makes them feel more confident and sympathetic, among other things.

Nothing in the world is perfect, and like all things social networking can be used in a negative fashion: to bully, to harass, to obsess. At the end of the day, however, social networks are merely a tool in life, and viewing them as such — rather than as a bugaboo — will help pave the way towards even greater uses.