Fear, Trains and Social Media

7 Apr

I’m a little wary of trains.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m afraid of them (I do travel on them quite often).  But wary – definitely.

When I was four, I was running along some tracks near my grandmother’s house.  I was lost in my own thoughts and didn’t hear my Dad yelling at me.  In fact, I didn’t hear anything until the train whistle alerting me that there was a train approaching.  It was a little closer than I would have liked.  A lot closer than my Mom would have liked.  After that, I kept my distance for a while.  My brother excitedly announced to my grandparents that “Liz almost got crushed by a train today!”  It was big news in our calm world.

When I was in college and working full-time, a friend and I took the train down to Boston for a work conference (the same train I take very often now to go back home).  It was a horrific ride.  There was a scream – there was a crash – and the train conductor passed our seats in tears.  Someone had committed suicide Anna Karenina style.  Our train sat on the tracks for hours as the police did their reports, interviewed the conductor, tried to calm the distressed passengers.  I remember being really hungry (we arrived at 10 pm instead of 6pm) and vowing to never ride another train.

Then I moved to England. This involved lots of trains.  There was even one train ride when a bunch of hooligans were throwing empty beer bottles at the train security officers.  I was stuck in the middle.  And another train ride to meet friends in Eastbourne when I had to sit next to three guys reading porn magazines.  I asked them if they’d get up so I could move, they refused.  It was a tense few hours.

And then I slept on a train in the Ukraine.  Loved the sleeping berths.  Did not love the drunk Russians around.  Loved seeing the countryside pass.  Did not love waking up at 3 am and having to jump (literally) from a moving train since they slowed down but did not stop at the station to save on fuel.  Informing 45 people that they must disembark from a moving train with all their luggage at 3 am in a 90 second time frame was ludicrous.  Or Russian.  Take your pick.

And then, there was the Chunnel incident.  Gulp.  I’ll revisit that one in another post.

I’m wary of trains but not scared of them.  Trains are not evil.  Trains do not cause harm.  Like most things, technology is neutral.  It can be used for good or for bad.  It can harm people or help them.  It depends on how and why it is used.

It’s the same for social media. Twitter and Facebook and Linked In (and I could keep going…) can be used to connect like-minded people, to increase business, to provide creative outlets, to make a large and diverse world seem smaller.  But it can also be a time-waster, a stressful ongoing popularity contest,  a dangerous insular social network that keeps people from personal and face to face friendships.

It’s nothing to fear.  There is a lot of good to be harnessed from social media.  But it’s something to remain wary of.  Don’t hold back, dive right in – but keep an eye on both the shore and the horizon.  A good swim won’t feel so good if your wallet is stolen or a shark attacks.

If 20% of your daily communication comes via social media outlets, that seems fair. It may be higher for those who employ it for their jobs. But if 80-90% of your daily interactions are through social media venues or with the guy behind the coffee counter, you need to reassess your priorities.

Nothing should replace sitting across a friend for coffee, a phone call to a family member, a face to face video conference with your boss, a game of golf with your best friend. Celebrate the advances that technology has given us in the social sphere (Skype for military families comes immediately to mind) but never become fully dependent on that technology.  A Facebook wall post should never replace an old-fashioned mailed thank you note.  Twitter should never become your only news source.  And the number of people on your Linked In account does not guarantee you a “cushion of comfort” in contemplating a job change.

Don’t hold back, dive right in – but keep an eye on both the shore and the horizon.  Remain wary.  Remain flexible.  And remain savvy.  Know yourself, your values, and your priorities and match your  social media uses accordingly.  The technology you use should match your values.  Do not change your values to match technology.

(And think twice before getting on a train with me.  I’m beginning to see a pattern…)


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