Social Media’s Role in Building Community

For all the negative press social media can attract, it certainly has a place in modern society, and often a very useful one. Sure, it’s a time waster, and we spend more time staring at our phones than we do communing with nature, but for a world in which the tyranny of distance is slowly being eroded by technology, social media plays an important role.

I was privileged to be a part of the growth of the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) community during it’s infancy. Ask anyone who is passionate about OCR and they will tell you that it is a community made up of positive, enthusiastic, encouraging and engaged individuals. People who inspire each other through their deeds and draw inspiration from the most unlikely of places, often other members of the community who feel they are just an average punter.

It got me to thinking, why is it that a community of people from such a broad cross section of socioeconomic, educational, geographic and cultural backgrounds exploded with such energy, such pure good will?

I think that social media has a lot to do with it. Most of those who were involved early on were part of the Spartan Race Street Team, and we all had a common goal to achieve, an altruistic one to boot. We wanted to get people involved in racing, to get them energised, off the couch, exercising and involved in life. (N.B. The genius of the Spartan Race business model is that they promoted sell outs in all the races during their first year of operation with little or no overheads. Clever.)

In addition to this, we felt we were part of something bigger than just our own little fitness goals, confined to our own little part of the world. We were contributing to a positive and fast growing phenomenon across a broad swathe of society all over the nation and even the world.

But why is it that, when a lot of us were so different, many of us a little broken, out there or downright weird, that there was never – or almost never – any negativity. There was no bagging out on others because of their body shape, their fitness levels, their looks or their interests. Certainly this has something to do with the fact that we often only knew as much as a profile picture and comments would tell us, but I believe it was more than that.

Confronted with a new group of people face to face, we can become intimidated, nervous, shy or overcompensatory. But from behind our computer screens, we are comfortable with how we look, even in our pj’s, we have time to stop and think before we reply to someone. We can digest someone’s comments and ponder their true meaning before taking offence and reacting defensively.

We can afford to be a little more civilised, for we have time. Time to reflect. Time to think. Time to give someone the benefit of the doubt or view whatever may have been said with a different lens.

So before you jump on the ‘social media is evil’ bandwagon, ponder the ways in which it has allowed fledgling communities to grow and flourish. Get involved with one even. You may just like it.

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