It’s happened so many times, they start to blend. That undercurrent of anxiety, of not belonging and not knowing where to go that comes with being in a new place. Social media and its influence have quickly become an integral part of our everyday existence. Intertwined with our personal and professional lives, touching both casual and close relationships, the ability to connect with people all over the world defines our identity in an ever-evolving way. For the military spouse, it has the ability to both relieve and exacerbate that feeling of anxiety brought on by every new move.
On the surface, social media feels like the perfect solution for the geographically dispersed military community. Families and friends spread throughout the country or world are only as far away as a click of the mouse or IPhone application. There is more to communication than just access, but social media often strips it to the basics. When my husband comes home with those sometimes dreaded, sometimes longed for words (“so, I heard from Branch…..”) my first destination is usually Facebook.
In the course of our almost 10 year military journey we have made wonderful friends who have since moved to a wide variety of places in true military fashion. They make up a tremendous resource when it comes to researching a possible new duty station.
Within the last month, I did exactly that. I sent a Facebook message to a friend who is currently stationed at our possible next location and asked for input on my biggest concerns: a good neighborhood (and the value of on versus off post), a preschool/childcare for my four year old, a barn for my horse and a running club for me. She posted my requested as a status update and within just a few hours I had a solid list of possibilities based on personal recommendations.
There is immense power in the ability to reach out and gather that information- a counter weight to the inherent anxiety of uprooting our lives and reestablishing in a new place.
As powerful as social media is with regards to gathering information, there is growing evidence that relying on technology based communication can have detrimental effects. When the bulk of our interaction becomes linked with social media, there is a shift in the relationship dynamic.
On a daily basis, I see photos and status updates from my Army spouse friends. Going through a deployment, dealing the challenges of reintegration, struggling with career choices, and fighting the everyday battles of parenting- I can express support and sympathy with the click of my mouse and some key board tapping. But are we really connected and functioning as a support system when our interaction happens primarily on social media?
The argument could be made the quality of our relationships suffers when we rely on technology for our interactions. In addition, our social media presence plays a decisive role in our professional lives. Is there an innate conflict in having to guard our professional identities on the same platform that is a cornerstone of our social support?
The power of social media is undeniable. It allows military spouses unprecedented access to geographically dispersed family, friends and spouses that are so much a part of this lifestyle. Platforms like LinkedIn make professional networking more accessible and highlight the military spouse’s widespread connections. Facebook has revolutionized the way we meet, stay connected and develop our support systems.
The Army recognizes the influence of social media on the military community and has issued a Social Media Handbook. The secret to reaping the benefits of social media is a thorough understanding of its capabilities and reach. Moving forward, educating military spouses about the pitfalls and opportunities of social media plays a key role in maximizing its positive impact on our community.