Navigating social media is like riding a bike. The internet provides a highway to virtual communication and sharing of ideas and experiences. Riding it for information and entertainment requires balance, a skill essential in learning to ride a bicycle.
I learned to ride a bike without the benefit of training wheels. The bike belonged to my brother and had a bar running from steering wheel to seat. I had to throw my leg over the bike to get on the seat. The bike was taller than I so catching my balance mid-air took quite a bit of trial-and-error (and tears.) I practiced on an inclined, graveled driveway with little unexpected traffic.
My dad had promised that I would get my own bike once I learned how to ride one. I remember clearly the excitement and freedom I felt when he drove me to the bike shop and I biked home on my new-to-me blue Schwinn while he followed closely behind me.
My freedom to ride came with learning to ride responsibly and, perhaps, those lessons were the most valuable of all. I learned to look further down the road to assess what was coming up. I learned the consequences of riding through mud puddles and riding rough-shod over bumps and cracks in the path. I learned to never leave my bike out of my sight while out-and-about on my little adventures. Most of all, I learned where I could and could not go and how to make a decision if it was safe to stop and explore or best to just keeping going.
Those early-learned lessons serve me well now as I explore the world virtually. Using the internet to look up basic information and accomplish mundane tasks is easy to master. Social media, however, is much trickier and far more dangerous in many ways. Click-bait tempts frequently. Fake news beckons in my peripheral vision. Mixed among the advertisements and games and ‘like’ and ‘follow’ pleas are those tidbits that keep me signing in every day: family stories and pictures, a peek at friends’ adventures, cool stuff to try, good recipes, funny memes, great photographs.
It is a two-way street; I can post similar things to share with those who like and follow me. I can connect with groups of people who have similar interests and we learn from each other. The rules of etiquette and common conduct keep this virtual world mostly in order.
I have learned, especially on the sites where anyone can see what I post, to be wary of the inherent dangers that lurk in this virtual world. People can and will twist your words to mean something entirely different or take them out of context, or just dislike them outright. They even steal your words and pictures and claim them as their own.
An obvious solution would be to simply avoid these sites altogether and save myself the stress. Is the benefit worth the risk? I think back to why I learned to ride a bike in the first place: for the freedom to explore my world and learn for myself what is out there and how to think about it. How to keep myself safe. How to find my way back home again. That is also the lure for me to participate in the virtual world. So I will ride on!