Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Using social media in a positive way, part one

Recently, Ima 2 Seven posted about an article she had read on MavenMall.com where a social media mommy was on the verge of cutting the internet out of her home.  As a response to the article, Chana Jenny at Jewishmom.com shared how she has developed healthy limits for internet use.

Reading these posts made me take a good, hard look at my priorities.  It didn’t exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy. It did happen to be a timely topic, though, as my husband and I were just discussing setting parameters on internet usage (more on that later).

I have definitely struggled with setting healthy limits for my internet use, but guess what?  I’ve also struggled with setting healthy boundaries for shmoozing on the phone, relaxing with a book, even for making yummy Shabbos food (just one more salad!).

Life is chock full of opportunities to set healthy boundaries.  This is simply one more area in which we should be honest with ourselves about how our actions are impacting our lives, and thus, the lives of our family.

While I know I can survive without internet access,  I think I am on the computer far too much.  With the support of my husband and Hashem’s help, I will be setting some (additional) boundaries.  We will not, however, be getting rid of the internet, and since I know I’m not the only one in this position, I thought it merited a blog post.

However, when I started writing this post, it became clear that I have a lot to say on the topic of social media, our relationship to it, and to each other.  Rather than bombarding you with all my ideas at once, I’m turning this into a three-part post.  Part one (this part), is how I use the internet for good; part two will be about when I use the internet; and part three will be about what I share on the internet.

When I refer to social media, I am talking about Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Forums (and email, to some extent).

1.  Staying in touch with friends

I don’t mean staying in touch with the person-who-I-met-that-one-time-at-that-event-who-knew-my-cousin.  I mean my friends who live in other cities (and, sometimes, in the same city).  Oftentimes it’s far easier for me to send a quick message through social media than it is to pick up the phone.

Currently, my toddler is going through a phase where whenever I’m on the phone, he wants to talk.  It makes it very challenging to have any interaction over the phone (at least until the phase ends), so in general, I try to avoid using the phone when I can.  This means no calls purely for social purposes while he’s awake.  I’m sure many of you can relate to this.

On that note, I find that in some cases it’s more polite to communicate by social media than by phone.  When I’m on the phone during the day, I’m also mothering my children, as is my friend on her end.  You can imagine how well that works out.  With social media, I can walk away from a message without ignoring the recipient, and I can give attention to my toddler or baby without explaining to my friend that I didn’t hear whatever it was that she was just telling me.  Additionally, I don’t have to worry if I’m bothering someone when I send them a message.  They can read and reply at a time that is convenient for them.

Facebook has been a great way to stay in touch with my friends in Israel.  I don’t call over there so much, as the connection is not always conducive to conversation, and the time difference can be problematic.  With two small kids, I can’t always Skype (though that was a nice option while it lasted).  I have friends in Israel who I am only in touch with via email, and I am just not in touch with them as much, unfortunately (mainly my fault there).

Yes, it’s true that online communication is devoid of inflection, but if I misunderstand a friend’s inflection, I can always clarify.  We’re friends, after all, and I would hope that we would be understanding of the limitations of online conversations.

To those who feel that Facebook is destroying our ability to have “real” relationships, check out this study.

2.  Doing good deeds

Sometimes I am amazed at the sheer amount of good deeds done online.  Through Facebook, I have seen women saying sefer tehillim for 40 days, raise money for hachnoses kallah, share recipes for Shabbos, arrange postpartum meals, welcome a new neighbor and give help to friends in need, and that’s just scratching the surface.

There are Facebook groups dedicated to davening for an individual’s refuah, to helping people find a place for Shabbos, to arranging for the opportunity for someone to pray for you at the kotel.  Just recently, a new shidduchim group has opened.  There’s even a group for the Chofetz Chaim.

While some may take issue with the idea of being online on a day as sober as Tisha B’Av, the amount of shiurim shared between friends was truly inspiring.  There was even a Facebook group created to facilitate a more meaningful Tisha B’Av.  It contained links to many of the online Torah sites and their very applicable and excellent classes.  It really did help me stay focused on the meaning of the day.

Also, I think supporting other women who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed is an amazing benefit of social media, Facebook in particular.  For a new kallah who is struggling with cookbooks, her friends are there in minutes to encourage her and give her helpful tips.  For a new mother, sleep-deprived and unsure of herself, her friends are able to help her see that she’s not alone with her feelings.  For a woman going through a difficult time, her friends are there to bolster her and support her in the way that she needs.

For those of you uncomfortable with the idea of posting private things in such a public forum (more on that in part 3), it is possible to create a more private way of reaching out to people, through creating “notes” that are only visible for those to whom the notes are addressed.  It is possible to use social media in a modest and dignified way.

Blogs have provided many opportunities to help those in need.  After the tornado which decimated Joplin, MO, Mara at Kosher on a Budget provided an excellent opportunity to help (and she is also doing so today, with an opportunity to sponsor Bike4Friendship’s Benefit for Children with Special Needs).   Sheva at My Shtub did the same for Friendship Circle not that long ago.  You may recall when I asked for help for a friend who lost all her belongings in an apartment fire.  These are all excellent ways to use social media as a vehicle for increasing the good in the world.

3.  Intellectual stimulation

One reason I love blogging is because I get to think about my mundane day-to-day activities in a different, more creative way.  It also provides me an opportunity to use words like “myriad,” “conducive” and “nuanced” instead of  “no,” “careful,” and “oy,” which are much more common in my house.

Social media can be an excellent vehicle for sharing information and ideas.  Some of my favorite Twitter users are the ones who consistently post interesting links to other blogs, websites or videos.  These are not just “oh look how CUTE that kitten is!! LOL!” videos, but more thought-provoking ones, some of which have brought me to tears.

One friend shares (on Facebook) a list of the latest books she’s read, along with a summary of each one.  I’ve enjoyed some really interesting and informative books that way.

I’ve also enjoyed links to interesting, thought-provoking articles or blogs which have prodded me to think harder about topics that I otherwise would not have given a second thought to.  These links are posted on Facebook, Twitter, or on blog posts.  In fact, if I hadn’t read the blog post by Ima2Seven, this post may never have happened!  Ah, the power of social media.

What are some positive ways you’ve benefited from your social media outlets?

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in this series.  If you don’t want to forget to come back, you can always subscribe, find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.  :) 

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18 thoughts on “Using social media in a positive way, part one

  1. great post! I’ve found that for whatever reason I haven’t connected locally with a lot of fellow moms with kids with autism. Most of the moms at the Friendship Circle meetings have kids with downs syndrome or medical issues. So I’ve been using facebook lately for a bunch of autism support groups and that’s been extremely helpful for me. I’ve also been using social media to meet clients since it’s gotten harder and harder to work in a traditional way with my kids home so much and needing so much attention. I can sell to a customer on facebook at midnight rather than doing a one on one face to face appointment locally during the day.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind link love, Rivki. I hope we got a load of sponsors to join me in this amazing effort for Bike4Friendship!

    I love this post, too – you share so many of the GREAT things about the Internet. Yes, there is a lot of ego and bitul z’man tied up into it, but the good far outweighs the bad in my mind.

    Thanks so much for this series – I can’t wait to read the rest.

    (p.s. your desk is SO neat!!!!)

  3. Very interesting viewpoint. While I believe it is necessary to set some limits, I also know that we cannot do without social media altogether. The most important thing is to be aware of the amount of time we are online and the quality (or lack) of the time spent there.

  4. Thanks, ladies!

    Heather – SM does provide great flexibility, so glad it’s working for you!

    Mara – I agree that the good is great than the bad. Also, my desk isn’t always this clean; just when I’m taking pictures of it. ;)

    Ilanadavita – eloquently put, as usual.

    Chaviva – amen to that!

  5. This is a really good post and does make one think about their priorities. I enjoy Facebook as a way to keep up with friends and stay in touch with people I otherwise would not. I’m doing some Twitter now. But I must say that one seems incredibly time-consuming to me. And you know how much I love blogging and reading others blogs. I’ve made the decision not to “plug in” when I get home from work and before Sophie goes to bed. I admit sometimes it’s hard. But I want her to know she is the priority.

  6. Rivki I always read your posts to the end and enjoy them thoroughly. As a person who reads about a gazillion blog posts a day for work, this is a true testament to your talent. You have a way of taking a subject and giving it a universal meaning, while still maintaining the true sense of your blog. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but you are one of my main blogging inspirations. You take the time. And it reminds me that I should too!

  7. Leah – I’m considering a similar move over here. I don’t want my kids to associate me solely with the laptop.

    Katie – you are the nicest! That’s it, I’m making you my agent.

  8. Hi Rivki: I also enjoyed reading your view point. I don’t know how I could manage keeping all of my family and good friends involved when we live on the other side of the planet. Like you said, it is very difficult to have a phone conversation from abroad when we only have a two hour window of opportunity (to include little one) with no guarantees. Also, how cool is it that you moved to a different state and our relationship has stayed exactly the same?

    1. Excellent point. I do love that even though I’m no longer in Cleveland, I’m still able to interact with my Cleveland friends (well, the ones that are on Facebook, that is!).

  9. Hi Rivki,
    Thanks for responding to my MavenMall article! Here’s the one on my blog: http://shmuelhoffmansblog.com/2011/08/05/why-we-dont-have-internet-connection-at-home-anymore/

    So far, so good. I’m getting more sleep without the internet at home, I’m getting more done at work, since I HAVE to, and I have to say, I’m already happier. And my house is cleaner! And my kids are behaving better! Who knew this would have such far-reaching ramifications?

    There’s a new revolution called DaytoDisconnect: http://www.daytodisconnect.com/
    basically asking people to pledge an hour of their time without cell phones and laptops, so that they can use that time to reconnect with loved ones, family, self, Gd, etc.

    I love that this is happening. The Internet has it’s time and place. It should not be always and everywhere.

    :-)
    Margelit

    1. Hi Margelt, thanks for popping by!

      I’m so glad to hear that things are going well for you – may it continue to be a source of bracha for you! I agree with you 100% that the internet should not be always and everywhere. Well put! I’ll spread the word about the DaytoDisconnect – what a nice idea. :)

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