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OUR TURN: It's time social media gets the respect it deserves

"Wow, this is amazing! You've got to check this out!"

New technology often seems so awesome and magical.

But almost anything can be abused and misused. Most new technologies end up being a mixture of both good and bad.

Cars are great for transportation, but they can kill if used recklessly; drugs can cure disease, but they can also be abused to escape reality and get high; cell phones can be used to call for help, but they can also be used to text while you are driving. Nearly everyone is aware of these dangers and knows that the proper use of these technologies is essential.

It's time we start looking at social media in the same way.

In many ways, social media defines modern life, especially for young people.

We know the good things social media can do, such as connecting people, creating awareness and helping us keep in touch. Most of us also know that it can be misused. We might hear about a friend who is addicted, or a new study about its effects, but then we tell ourselves "It won't happen to me or my kids. It's not that big of a deal."

But it is. It's a really big deal. What's missing in our obsession with social media is a realistic awareness of how dangerous and powerful it can be, and of the responsibility and discipline that is required to use it properly.

Misuse of social media is destroying families, fostering obsessive and addictive behavior, dividing our country, spreading misinformation, altering our perception of reality, promoting self obsession and causing depression. Just look at what's happening around us.

There's no doubt that social media can sometimes be a giant, stinking cesspool, with its blatant name calling, bullying, nastiness and attacks. But there are plenty of other negative effects.

Probably the most dangerous is its effect on families. The lives of many children and teens now revolve around cell phones and social media. Where a child used to be part of a family and occasionally see his or her friends, we now have a society where children are part of a their peer group and have occasional contact with their family. For many teens there is probably nothing more important than their friends and staying in constant contact through texts and social media. Children and teens certainly need friends, but there is nothing good about a trend that makes them more important or influential than family. When you add to the mix parents who overuse social media, you have a recipe for disaster.

Social media can also affect the emotional health of young people. Many studies show that teens who use social media a lot tend to be more depressed. And it's no wonder, since they feed on a constant diet of comparison to others (who tend to only share the good things that happen to them and not their struggles and imperfections). This leads to lower self image, since everyone else seems to be so perfect.

Unrealistic expectations and comparisons can affect anyone who uses social media. This could be why we seem to be so unhappy, despite having more money, possessions and opportunities than ever before in history. We constantly see other people bragging about what they did, where they went on vacation or the new stuff they just bought, and we feel deprived of what "everyone else" has.

As a country, we've always had differences of opinion, but social media is contributing to a polarization to the point where compromise is not even considered an option. The self obsession that social media can breed causes people to believe that not only is their viewpoint always correct but that it is the only one that matters. The result of this shows up at its worst with the "bigoteers" who recklessly tag others with labels such as bigot, racist, sexist and hater. Very few of us would ever dare speak this way to someone's face, so why is it considered acceptable online?

Social media and cell phones have combined to create a powerful, socially-acceptable addiction. Just look at the people around you and how dependent they are on constant hits of their cell phone drug.

Does all this mean social media is bad? No, only that it is often misused.

We don't need to quit using social media, we just need to have the same respect for it that we have for alcohol. We need to use it responsibly and with restraint, as well as not allowing minors to have unlimited and unsupervised use. And some people would probably be better off not using it at all.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.