The decade of the social Web (fixed & mobile)

The ’00s were when Web 2.0 hit – the increasingly mobile social Web, from desktops to laptops to gameplayers and smartphones, that spelled a media makeover as radical as the printing press did nearly 500 years ago. Why so radical? Well, maybe people felt the realtime one-on-one conversations of the telephone were just as radical in their time, but now we’re talking realtime multi-directional, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, multimedia, user-produced and professionally produced, un-regulatable conversations and productions and environments all through the same “pipeline” and appearing on multiple, often mobile devices of all sorts and sizes. Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen asks if what I just described is good, quoting Samuel Morse quoting the Bible when he tapped out the first message by telegraph in 1844, “What hath God wrought?” As radical as this shift we’re experiencing is, if God hath wrought it, I think it wasn’t the media so much as change itself that He or She wrought, since change is truly the only constant. The current change in media and technology will certainly change us, as media shifts always have, but the changes are always both good and bad, for example the ability to photograph and share with distant grandparents a kid’s hockey goal or a brand-new-baby photo in realtime is enabled by the same technology that instantly mass-distributes the nude photo of a minor who could later be prosecuted for producing and distributing child pornography.

This is a scary juncture in media history, as we collectively figure out how to preserve the good and mitigate the bad things about it, but it also presents – impels, really – a tremendous opportunity for us to pool all our forms of expertise and find solutions in the collaborative way these complex problems call for. It’s also calling upon us to develop unprecedented critical thinking skills, the kind that grasp the implications of behavior (ours and others’) as much as content, because media are social, or behavioral, now. If we can answer that call and collaborate in a more multi-disciplinary way then ever before, civilization might actually advance because of new media.

Some people, however, seem to think this juncture is just unprecedentedly bad – especially where youth are concerned. In his long, reflective essay, Sibley cites the view of Emory University Prof. Mark Bauerlein that social networking teens “never grow up,” remaining “narcissistically embedded in ‘gossip and social banter’ instead of attending to the knowledge they need to be mature and responsible adults.” There is actually a lot of opposing evidence that social media are not just about “gossip and social banter” to youth – see this three-part interview with Stanford University cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito by author Howard Rheingold.

But if you feel youth indeed are growing up more slowly, author Po Bronson agrees. In a Newsweek blog post, he suggests, however, that the fault lies in our over-protectiveness, not in social media. He cites the view of author Joe Allen that “our urge to protect teenagers from real life – because we don’t think they’re ready yet – has tragically backfired. By insulating them from adult-like work, adult social relationships, and adult consequences, we have only delayed their development. We have made it harder for them to grow up. Maybe even made it impossible to grow up on time.” Bronson’s referring to Escaping the Endless Adolescence, by Drs. Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen.

Hey, you can see from my essay yesterday that I worry, too, about the impact on youth of portable, 24/7 exposure to the drama of adolescent social lives, but I think it’s way too easy to blame the technology and I also worry – a lot – that all this fearing of or, at best, adjusting to, the new media environment by us adults is causing this regrettable over-protectiveness of our kids and distracting us from doing our job, parenting, which includes helping our children develop the most protective filter they’ll ever have, the one that’ll be with them wherever they go for the rest of their lives and improves with age: the software between their ears!

Related links

*Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth
*From users to citizens: How to make digital citizenship relevant?
*‘Continuous partial attention…’
*School libraries: Vital filter developers

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