Recent studies claim that social media can be dangerous to your health. Your mental health, at least.
With more than a billion Friends around the world, Facebook is indisputably our pre-eminent social network. Considering that such things as social networks didn't even exist a decade ago and we managed to survive just fine may raise questions about their longevity or shelf life. Nonetheless, the health warning, like those on cigarette packs or pharmaceutical ads on TV, was inevitable.
According to two German university studies, the more frequently many subjects visited their "Friends," the more lonely and envious they became.
I always thought an image of Narcissus should be part of the Facebook logo. He was the mythical Greek hunter who spotted his reflection in a pool and fell in love at first sight. Throw in Photoshop, relentless marketing, the popular boomer pastime of "reinvention" and a healthy dose of voyeurism, and you've got a quick, easy recipe for self-absorption or an express ticket to the dark side.
It's not helped by those of your Friends who keep you up to date on their travels ("Saint-Tropez lovely as always . . . tomorrow we yacht to Cinque Terre"), or the ones who think photos of their restaurant lunch entries hold any interest for the rest of us.
In these times when the fine art of self-portraiture has been reduced to a series of "selfies," it's hard to tell if we're chronicling our lives on social media . . . or trying to live our lives as a series of photo ops. Everything's just a click away. The jury's still out on whether social media is bringing us together or driving us deeper into isolated reflections of our own faces on screens large and small.
But in a new column dedicated to "Connections," social media is where more of them are happening. It is our collective digital nervous system with unbelievably quick response times.
Facebook is where I first hear about huge waves at Jaws, then watch Harry Donenfeld's drone video of surfers doing unbelievable things (like just surviving) on them. It's where I see a mammoth tree fall on Kokomo Road, almost the moment it happens, (thank you, Katie McMillan, glad it missed you).
It's where Randall Rospond previews his latest CD. It's where Tony Novak-Clifford reminds us that Open Studio begins next weekend Upcountry, offering great opportunities to visit artists in the studios where their inspiration lives.
And it was where Sara Tekula announced the Sierra Club's annual free lunch honoring environmental heroes last Saturday at Kaunoa Senior Center. Those heroes included Vince Mina, a leading pioneer in organic and sustainable farming in Hawaii, and Mahina Martin, honored for tireless organizing for one worthy cause after another.
Besides the chance to catch up with old friends like Tim Wolfe, David Fisher and Susan Bradford while happily grazing on a Mana Foods and Flatbreads feast, the event brought a number of politicians and candidates - some in letters or video addresses from Washington - to solidify ties with this revered, always reasonable environmental organization.
A banner on the wall proclaimed, "Our Environment is Our Economy." It's also our health, our identity and the future for generations to come, observed one speaker after another.
One good thing about politics in a blue state is you don't have to waste too much time in inane arguments with people convinced that realities of our modern world - climate change, for instance - are some sort of hoax or conspiracy.
Instead, you can seek solutions.
Sustainability and green innovation are also what UH-Maui College is about these days. It's heartening to think Maui can build an actual economy - something more than serving drinks with umbrellas in them to tourists - by ingeniously tapping into our unique natural resources.
Maui can be a greenhouse for the green movement. Going back to the land is the path to the future when done with intelligence, integrity and care.
That path to the future is being paved by social media. Posting something online is like digitally dropping a pebble into an infinity pool. My ripples travel out to friends and family in New York and Oklahoma where I grew up; and to still-dear friends in Santa Cruz, including a lot of former newspaper colleagues. But mostly the ripples stay on Maui, where so many of my Facebook friends are artists and creative souls of one sort or another.
Social media is our digital salon, with our latest creations hanging on the walls. It's also a rich vein to mine for a newspaper column in a new millennium.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at email@example.com or 344-9535.