In recent times, social media has played a significant role in our affairs. It has become an adhesive that knits together groups of people with a common interest. As a result, it has become common to see social media groups such in the categories of JSS Year Mates, SSS Year Mates, associations, committees for both work and church, departments, etc.
The essence of these groups is to promote that spirit of camaraderie among a group with a common interest and also seek support for one another. Members of these groups are always almost seen as brothers and sisters with a common agenda. In effect a new family is formed online.
Another tremendous contribution of the social media is its use as a tool for connecting old and lost friends. Not only that but also people have gotten more friends than would have gotten if it were through the normal way of making friends. There are also people who have got jobs and other opportunities, including marriage, through Social Media. In this case, Social Media is seen as a maker of families other than the natural families born out of blood relations.
Notwithstanding all these and many other great achievements made through the effort of Social Media, there is another face of Social Media that we have not brought our minds to. That is, unconsciously we are allowing Social Media to weaken our family systems which are born out of blood and the spirit. This is what I refer to as the paradox of Social Media in knitting groups of people. On one hand, one man(woman) builds a large family (school mates, work mates, and other friends online) and spends a large chunk of his (her) time (online) with them and on the other hand spends little time with his(her) immediate family (wife, husband, children, siblings, etc) because of the demands from the former. Most of the times we tend to offer a lot of our time to the external (online) family because of our insatiable quest for acceptance from the public. Consequently, we are always eager to sacrifice the immediate family interest.
In our part of the world, we hold family relationships in high esteem, and such relationships go beyond communications through technological tools. As one musician put it, comfort from one another is gained through physical contact. In our environment – for both nuclear and extended family- it is expected of each member to play his or her role to ensure family harmony, and one of the most important roles is to ensure effective communication among the family. One of the ways of ensuring effective communication is spending quality time with the family.
However, this has not been the case for some time now as a result of the demands of our jobs and other exigencies of life. What has worsened the case is the failure of society to control the use of Social Media. This is affecting family bonds and to a larger extent our societies. The negative effect can be seen in a number of ways.
First is the nuclear family, and to be specific marriages. Communication, let me say, is the spinal cord of all marriages. Consequently when communication breaks down, it affects the health of one’s marriage. What is happening of late, unfortunately, is that husbands and wives spend a lot of time chatting friends, school mates, work mates etc, even after returning from work, when they have to spend quality time with their partners. If not for anything couples’ bed is supposed to be the place where effective communication takes place; and even on the bed, you would see both couples sleeping with their backs facing each other and busily chatting other people. It is as if they are married to their phones. When it happens so, salient issues and decisions that need discussion slip by and this creates a lot of problems for many marriages.
In relation to the above is the fact that parents spend a lot of time communicating with people outside their family at the expense of their children. Parents nowadays close from work, come home, and still spend a lot of time answering all messages received through social media. We are always ready to attend to the needs of families created on phones and not that of our kids. We are always ready to ask people how they are faring but we don’t bother to ask our kids how they are doing. We are always ready to forward messages of good tidings to others but we always forget our kids. We help people solve their problems through social media however we forget to help our kids do their homework. Our children nowadays feel lonely even in our presence as we are always seen glued to our phones and chatting other people. We must be mindful of this and always remember that blood is thicker than technology.
The second we discuss is the extended family which is almost defunct. The extended family system, until recently, had always been a reliable social support for our society. However, its strength waned down as people began to show preference for the nuclear family system. Notwithstanding that it still plays a significant role in many societies.
It’s a vehicle for marshaling support for distressed members as it promotes the spirit of uncleship, cousinhood and brotherhood. Previously, families of this nature used to have regular meetings, pay each other a visit, meet occasionally to discuss matters of concern, etc. However, these activities now take place on social media.
This practice may not be bad but it calls for concern when it becomes a substitute for what should bring together families who trace their ancestry to one person. Then a family becomes a mere association on the social media. Let’s remember again that blood is thicker than technology.
Finally, one issue that is becoming a concern is the use of social media when the church meets. The church is seen as a family of people who come from different places. When we meet we are to pursue a common interest. We surrender all other interest and see to it that we attend to the needs of others.
We discuss issues that are of concern to people we refer to as brothers and sisters as we see ourselves as such. However, it has become a common practice for members of churches to chat their friends through the social media and thus make the purposes of such meetings irrelevant. Apart from it being disrespectful to God, it also shows that we do not value the relationship that exists among us.
To conclude, I would say that social media makes a family if it is done at the right time, right place and the right way. It however breaks a family if it is done at the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong way. In effect, whether social media makes or breaks a family depend on the time, place and how it is used. Let’s remember that if you do the right thing at the wrong time it affects the quality.
Above all, in all relationships, let’s remember that the human factor supersedes everything. To this effect, relationships (social media and family by blood) should not only be reduced to voice calls, photo displays and text messages, but must also ensure physical contacts (meetings). The Akans have a proverb saying that goes like, “Onipa y3 d3 nanso y3nnnwe ne nam. This is translated, “Man is sweet but you can’t chew his or her flesh”. Social media is good but we shouldn’t let it take the better part of us.