Despite the fact that social media has become a part of the fabric of our daily lives, I am always amazed at how many people continue to believe that online communications are not quite “real”. Instead they chide people to plug into their “real” lives or assume that online connections diminish “real” life. There was a point in time when even I questioned whether or not my online activities were healthy and would occasionally attempt to unplug so that I could plug into my “real” life. However I have had a change of heart, I am now convinced that online spaces while different than offline spaces are just as valid as online spaces. In fact I wonder why so many of us feel the need to choose between online or offline spaces, both can add value to our lives and both can be problematic and neither one is inherently better than the other, rather they are just continuum’s on the journey called life.

For the past dozen years, social media has been the lifeline that has allowed me to navigate living in a white space as a non white person. In my daily real life where there are few people who I can relate to on a deeper level, connections made over the years via discussion groups in the early 2000’s have given me a safe space where I can be myself.  My online village literally has seen me through my 30’s and now through my 40’s; many of the connections formed online have become trusted friends. I won’t even go into the number of professional connections made through my online village which would be impossible to replicate in a small rural state.

No, after fighting it for years, I recently had to admit that my online world was as important to me as my offline world, equally real and equally valid.

Yet just like in the “real” world, the online world can be problematic if not managed well. If we put in too much time at our jobs and don’t take care of ourselves, things start to feel unbalanced and we get out of sorts. Frankly if we give too much of ourselves to any one area, project, or person without balancing things out, it starts to not be a good look. Thinking back on when the almost 9 year old was a baby, I was out of balance…she was my day and my night, for almost four years, I never slept longer than three hours at a stretch…this is parenthood. I wouldn’t have dared to call her not real but as someone who has also seen another child to adulthood, I know that eventually it all balances out with kids and one day you start to reclaim the balance by making time for yourself. Hell, one day you are eagerly asking them to hang out with you.

Sure,it is possible to spend too much time plugged in but I like to believe that we humans are smarter than the machines, we eventually find our balance. But in a world where think pieces abound on how we are ignoring our kids based off some looky-loo’s 5 minute snapshot into our lives, it’s hard not to constantly question whether we are too dependent on our gadgets. As someone whose schedule allows for a great level of flexibility there are times when I am with my kid, looking into my screen juggling emails but the alternative is that she could be in after school care while I am trapped in my office until quitting time. Instead  I can run an organization and be there for my kid.

This past weekend, I had several exchanges with a few different people in my real life who are not regular users of social media, they admitted that they were amazed at the frequency at which I use social media. It’s always an awkward moment when someone comments on how often I use social media, one that I used to feel embarrassed about but that I now embrace. Yep, I do use XYZ network regularly, as someone who straddles the introverted/extroverted line, social media is the greatest thing since bacon or red velvet cake! I can talk to people when I  feel the need to yap and when I am tired, I can power down without the awkwardness of hoping you get the hint that I am tired without feeling like I am hurting your feelings. My only rule these days around social media use is to allow myself 10-12 hours every day where I am unplugged which is how I balance both sides of my life, similar to how I rarely drink caffeinated coffee after noon time.

Speaking of social media, why all the hate for the selfie? I admit, I was late to the party and since I will be participating on a local panel next month where we will be discussing selfies I won’t say much but let me just say that I love selfies. I never saw a picture of myself that I liked until I started taking pictures of myself. I was reminded of this after looking at a few pictures that were taken of me over the weekend and cringing. Despite what many think, selfies can be very much a tool in the empowerment tool case and not just the visual evidence of a world gone narcissistic.

Change is hard and in a Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter world it can seem that the world has lost its center but without change we don’t grow. So I am embracing the change and even learning to see the beauty within myself at the same time.