Social Media’s Unintended Consequences

A woman named Peggy whom I met this week told me a heartrending story of how she spent last Sunday.  Peggy’s 32-year-old nephew Joe is in the military – and in Afghanistan for the seventh time in four years.  It was his baby girl’s one-year birthday so the whole family gathered at his home with his wife and daughter and they all Skyped with Joe.  Peggy’s eyes filled with tears as she recounted the conversation, not just because she misses Joe, but because he shared the horrendous experience of a suicide bombing attack by a man calmly and seemingly innocently walking his donkey down a dirt road. Four of Joe’s men died in that attack and eight others are hospitalized in serious, if not critical, condition.

So much about this story is up for discussion, from our very presence in the Middle East to the strategy of redeploying our soldiers to war zones over and over and over again.  There’s another, possibly less recognized and almost definitely less discussed, issue at play here, however – Joe and his family Skype regularly.  So do hundreds, if not thousands, of other troops overseas.  On the one hand, it’s beyond wonderful that social media enables our troops to communicate so easily and frequently with their loved ones.  Undoubtedly, it assuages their loneliness as well as their family’s fears for their safety.

But is there a hidden cost to this apparent benefit?  Are deployments more frequent, and are they much longer than ever before because of social media?  Since our troops can “visit” with their families regularly through sophisticated communication channels never even imagined during the Vietnam years, for example, do the commanders of our Armed Forces think that perceived balm to loneliness justifies these long and oft-repeated deployments?  Peggy and her nephew think so, and the very thought speaks to the potential for unintended consequences of constantly emerging media.
By Ronnie Gunnerson

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