A final reflection on the five years of ‘Connected’

We’ve used this column once a week for the last five years to look at how technology can enhance and, at times, hinder our relationships. We’ve explored the role of social media in our lives.

Five years seems like a small, inconsequential amount of time for anything. It’s a blip on the radar of The Vindicator’s impressive 150-year run. It’s a fraction of the history enjoyed by the first American television programs that aired over 90 years ago.

At my age, five years goes by in the blink of an eye.

But five years is big in terms of the scope of the current slate of social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are teenagers today. Instagram is a 9-year-old. Snapchat is an infant.

We’ve been at this for half-a-decade, and in that time, we’ve covered a lot of ground, trying to stay ahead of this fast-paced, ever-changing world of social media.

Along the way, we looked at tips and tricks for getting the most out of our favorite platforms. We took deeper dives into protecting our privacy and security. We studied the landscape to look for promising new social media to make us feel better connected.

After five years, are we better or worse at this?

Probably both. We’re better because, as research suggests, we feel more connected to our world, our friends and family, and our communities. People often cite social media as the reason why they feel more connected.

We might also be a bit worse because, over the last few years, we’ve come to grips with real privacy and security concerns that have simmered under the surface of social media since the start. How Facebook and others (and us) have handled these issues is as telling as our continued use of their services.

In other words, we still have work do. Of course, we can’t control the actions of social media companies, but we can control our own.

In one of my first columns, I offered some basic tips for adjusting our behaviors, for using social media in ways that were meant to encourage online prosocial behaviors:

  1. Let your first post each day be a positive one. See my friend @JimTressel5 on Twitter for an example of someone who posts something positive every day.

  2. Follow more positive people. Follow someone who inspires you.

  3. Encourage others to be positive social media users. Positive posts are infectious. You can inspire others to be upbeat by simply posting motivational words.

  4. Build stronger connections with social media followers, and filter out those who bring you down.

I’m proud to have been a small part of this 150-year history, grateful to my friends at The Vindicator for the opportunity, and thankful to be a little more connected to you, the readers in our Valley and around the world.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog atadamearn.com.