…suggesting that the more we understand young people in the context of their everyday lives, the more we’ll be able to support them online too.
By Anne Collier
I’m just going to “republish” the following paragraphs in full because of the last two about teens. They represent cutting-edge, research-based thinking, but also a point of view that I value. The writer, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She’s blogging at The Atlantic about social media’s role in human relationships in anticipation of a conversation with Sherry Turkle and Steven Marche on the Diane Rehm Show on public radio this week, in which she speaks of social media as one answer to the “epidemic of loneliness” that Marche wrote of in The Atlantic….
“Social media is propelling transitions and disruptions in the composition of social networks. Increasingly, what used to be a given (social ties you inherited by virtue of where you lived or your familial ties) is now a task (social ties based on shared interests and mutual interest). Surely, there will be new winners and losers. None of this, however, indicates a flight from human contact.” I completely agree, based on personal experience and research I’ve covered (see my own counter to the notion that our humanity is somehow diminishing, though I also agree we, the human race, have much to figure out about how our humanity is expressed in and with social media).
“Is there a qualitative loss, then? Maybe. Such a subjective argument cannot be refuted with all the data showing people are just as much, if not more, connected now, compared with most of 20th century. My sense is that what qualitative loss there is happens to be less so than many other forms of conversation avoidance. In fact, I can’t count the number of times I was disturbed upon entering a house – especially in Turkey where this is common – because the television was blaring. Most people use the TV exactly like that – a conversation killer. At least, if people are texting, they are texting a human being. Similarly, I doubt that anyone has not seen how a person can open the newspaper at the kitchen table to block out conversation.
“Take the much-maligned teenagers. What have we done to them? First, we move to the suburbs. So, they can’t get around unless they drive (which is pretty dangerous). Parents often only take them to organized activities where the activity – hockey, violin, debate club – dominates, not the leisurely social conversation with each other adolescents naturally crave. Or they can hang out at … shopping malls. I need not say more about soul-killing.
“And then when teenagers attempt to break out of this asocial, unnatural, and bizarre prison constructed of highways, no-recess time, and isolated single-family homes by connecting to each other through social media, we ‘tsk-tsk’ them on how they don’t know how to actually talk, or that they are narcissists because now we can see their status updates. Hint: Not much new going on here except teenage behavior is now visible, thanks to technology and everyone else seems to have forgotten what it was like to be that age. And, yeah, mom and dad, sometimes they want to talk to their peers and not to you. That is not new. It’s not even your fault. It’s called being a teenager. A bit of a pain, perhaps, but the kids are neither the smartest, nor the dumbest, nor the most narcissistic, nor the most non-conversationalist generation ever.”
It’s an amazing generation, actually. They’re growing up in a challenging, fast-changing world, and they are doing very well with that. Watch this video shot at The Bridge Academy, a school for at-risk youth in London, and produced by youth-technology consultant Stephen Carrick-Davies (see The Guardian for insights into this amazing school). At about 5:50 in, administrator and teacher Andre Bailey says, “I don’t think we give children enough credit for the way that they do self-censor and manage their behavior online.” Despite all they’re dealing with in their lives, the young people in the video demonstrate a lot of intelligence and self-awareness around the technology they use. As their teacher, Andre, put it, “that’s not to say that it doesn’t go wrong sometimes” in videogames and other digital spaces – “of course it does, but it’s just as likely to go wrong in the real world as it is in the virtual world.” The more we understand young people in the context of their everyday lives, the better we’ll be at supporting their safe use of digital media and technology.