No, Social Media Isn’t Hurting the Army
In a rebuttal to ‘Unplug, Soldier!’, one officer explains how online time builds bonds in more ways than one.
If there’s a topic sure to generate clicks, it’s those damned Millennials and their cell phones.
To be fair, smartphones have undoubtedly changed military leadership and culture in surprising ways. Fortunately, 21st-century soldiers will still interact and bond with their comrades as they always have. More importantly, social networking actually benefits soldiers in many important ways.
First, the good old days of human interaction weren’t always so great. We’d like to think our conversations were much deeper and more meaningful in our youth, but I distinctly remember my banter as a younger soldier — it’s probably best there weren’t smartphones everywhere. Frat-boy bonding games and off-color jokes are far less tolerable in today’s military and that’s for the best. (Ditto for the weepy nostalgia for dining-ins and officer’s clubs)
Second, soldiers are bonding and keeping in touch with one another through their smartphones. They share links on Facebook and send each other messages on Snapchat. They even vent their frustration at Army leaders and bureaucracy through Internet memes — and they’re very, very good at it. Leaders who haven’t seen these meme masters in action may want to remember the old adage from poker: “If you can’t spot the mark at the table, you’re the mark.”
Third, social media helps soldiers build networks that include new civilian friends as well as fellow soldiers. Close relationships with civilians helps the American public understand our Army, and it allows our soldiers to understand the society they serve. Most importantly, it opens soldiers to contrary viewpoints. This past month, I encountered a journalist who repeated an old cliche about soldiers coming from poor backgrounds. Because I had encountered this viewpoint so often, I had no trouble offering a rebuttal filled with facts, figures, and hard data. Exposing soldiers to deviant viewpoints helps them think critically about our profession.
Finally, the military lifestyle forces soldiers to move every few years. Social media is one of the few ways comrades can keep in touch with one another as they shuttle across the world. Not to mention: though there’s value in bonding with other soldiers, we need to maintain strong relationships with our friends in civilian life. We spent the first 18 years of our lives as civilians, and after a 20-year military career, we’ll be civilians once again. Social media can make that transition much easier as we reintegrate with our civilian friends while staying in touch with our friends-in-arms.