Having recently experienced a great, personal loss, the use of social media was an essential and indispensible channel that allowed me to remain connected to service members currently deployed in combat zones. Respectively, my point of view regarding the use of social media in a war zone stems from my first hand encounter with how it allowed me to engage, often in real time, with loved ones and friends.
Differences of opinions will undoubtedly continue over the involvement and use of social media by deployed troops, especially those in combat zones. However, any experimental stage has long since passed. Skype, Facebook and others have fully developed to become the preferred and primary method through which troops relate to family members and friends back home, and to each other in theatre. Such sentiments have not been lost at the Pentagon.
Last February, the Department of Defense – in an effort to get a better handle on the use of social networking – issued its first unified guidelines on how and when to use Facebook, MySpace, Skype and other sites civilians might take for granted. The greater question and challenge now is how to strike a proper balance for the safe, sound and ultimate function of social media as it pertains to modern military troops and commanders in the field. A practical, analytical approach may yield some kind of a realistic assessment by collecting both the deleterious and beneficial effects of social media on military troops, in particular those deployed for extended tours of duty. However, trepidation abounds for such a field of study as it runs the risk of coursing into the realm of triviality absent the staid and responsive nature of the subjected service member(s).
It is important to keep social media in proper perspective as pressures such as deployment stress, boredom in combat zones, and many other difficulties experienced by active duty service members continue to rise. In addition, burgeoning post-deployment problems have grown rapidly as returning service members face the challenges of reintegration to civilian life – suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression along with an additional higher rate of enduring homelessness and battling of substance abuse. As service members increasing utilize social networking, a pragmatic opportunity exists for the use of anticipatory and preemptive measures to combat such dire issues.
Military lives are different and fraught with compounded complexities beyond those of ordinary civilian lives. As highly social creatures, human beings require a deep emotional connection and interaction with one another – it is a substantive necessity. Social media not only satisfies that particular human need but also rewards the human sensory apparatus with an almost drug-like compulsion and tenacity. Hearing a loved one’s voice or communicating with them on video, often in real time, lessens the fear of the unknown and allows them to remain in control of their lives, especially back home. Once again, the question arises as to the overall effect this may have on deployed service members.
Military history teems with the technological advancements of civilian society. Obviously, this is not the military of our fathers, nor should it be – previous generations of military troops and commanders have had to deal with their particular advancements and technological innovations. This modern-age military will continue to experience the growing pains of its rapid advancements in technology as the use of social media and networking continues to grow and develop. The explicit impact or influence of social media on deployed troops largely depends on striking the proper balance between social networking and healthy, human emotions. Today’s military leadership has a paramount and tremendous task with evenhandedly converging modern communications between deployed service members and their families back home. However, inescapable is the fact that all wars come with a price.
Whether or not social networking has a negative or positive impact on a deployed service member’s family unit depends more so on the individual(s) as opposed to the technology used to bring them together. Extended, empirical studies offering conclusive, scientific evaluations will determine the possible detrimental consequences or advantages, thus bringing a more substantial and informative discourse to the effects of Facebooking and the war. To do otherwise is to consent to and accept a determination of evidence based merely on the circumstances surrounding the question at hand.
Although social media is a product of human minds, I am not entirely convinced that the time has yet arrived in which our technology has surpassed our humanity. The attention and underlying focus must always remain the over-all well being of all service members as opposed to amplifying the method through which they interact and communicate.