Saturday, April 14, 2018

My Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media

As some of you already know, in November of 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer.  It wasn't entirely a surprise; most of the women on my late mother's side of the family have gotten the same diagnosis at one time or other.  But it was still upsetting, and I wanted to tell someone.  Of course, I told my husband, and I told my sister. But the reason many of you already know I had cancer is because I went on Facebook and Twitter and wrote something about it.  (I got hundreds of encouraging comments, and lots of stories from people who were cancer survivors.  It really did help to lift my spirits.)

I admit that talking about my health on social media was not the sort of thing I was raised to do, which may explain why a part of me was conflicted about doing it. I still remember when I was growing up, and there were rules about keeping certain things private.  Of course, it was a time before social media and the internet had been invented; but even if they had been, I'm not sure I would have used them to tell people I'd never met that I had cancer.  Back then, health was supposed to be personal.  You could acknowledge that you had a cold (although people could probably figure it out as soon as they heard you coughing and sneezing); but you would not have discussed having cancer unless you were with people you knew very well-- and even then, you might downplay it, so as not to worry anyone.  

Fast forward to today.  Recent surveys say more than 70% of Americans regularly use social media.  As I've noted before, that can be a good thing: we can now easily keep in touch with friends and relatives, and we can get instant updates about causes we believe in.  But among the downsides: on too many social media pages, people are over-sharing constantly.  Okay fine, I understand wanting to get some comfort during difficult times, but it really seems nothing is private anymore. I've seen people discussing everything from coping with menstrual cramps to seeking marital advice.  None of this is scandalous, and I do hope the folks who were in need of assistance found it.  I'm just saying there are some things I would never tell complete strangers on a public forum.

I don't think I'm the only person who struggles with how much information is too much.  Perhaps it was okay for me to tell the folks who follow me (some of whom I know personally, but most I do not) about my cancer diagnosis.  However, I don't know if it would be a good idea for someone who is a lot younger to post about having cancer:  potential employers now read our social media posts, and rightly or wrongly, they might feel hesitant to hire you if you seem like you're not very healthy.  Agreed, there is no shame in having cancer (I'm into my third year of being cancer-free, and thank God for that); but my concern is that some folks are giving away too much of their personal life, and that may not be such a good idea.

Even after all this time, I'm of two minds about social media:  there's a part of me that has grown accustomed to it, and I enjoy the opportunity to reach out to others and share my views.  But there's another part that is more cautious, reminding me that speaking my mind can have consequences.  For example, whenever I post something about politics, I know that many commenters will be courteous; but more often than not, I will also encounter the haters and the trolls.  In fact, there are times I feel that being on social media brings more aggravation than it's worth. But then I think about the people who have been kind to me, and the causes I've been able to learn about; and over all, I believe there's more good online than bad.  And so, I continue to write, hoping that I am not one more person who over-shares, and hoping that most of my readers find my posts worthwhile.