Teens and social media

6/5/2013 12:00:00 AM

There was an interesting article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph about the film The Bling Ring. Entitled “Is the Facebook generation anti-social?”, the article presents what I think is a fairly balanced view of how teens seem obsessed with recording every moment of their lives. Well, balanced in the sense that the writer, Tim Stanley, attempts to present it as something we have always done. He cites the example of people in years gone by insisting on showing their (boring) holiday snaps to their friends and family. Now they upload them to Facebook instead (thank goodness!).

Texting in the park -- photo by Randy Pertiet http://www.flickr.com/photos/34652102@N04/

However, I don’t think he is right, and I also don’t think teens are the main culprit. I cannot recall ever having the desire to tell everyone where I was at any given moment, what my business turnover has been, or what I am eating for lunch. But all of those – and even more intimate pieces of information – regularly appear in my Facebook news feed. And they are all written by adults.

Perhaps it is because it now so easy to broadcast to the world that people share this sort of information – but I still don’t feel any burning need to do so. In fact, I was going to pen an article about this when Simon Finch posted a link to  The Degeneration of Facebook in 10 Statuses. This is an excellent post which cites almost all of my pet beefs about some people’s Facebook status updates. Oh, and Simon posted the link in Facebook, which only goes to show that it can be employed usefully.

I mention that last point because so many people appear to implicitly assume that all social media, but especially Facebook, is for time-wasting and trivia. My view is not only is that not altogether true, but that time-wasting and trivia are important. As Suzuki Roshi said, “A Zen student must learn to waste time conscientiously.” Well, if it’s good enough for people consciously seeking enlightenment, it ought to be good enough for everyone else!

I shall probably go to see the Bling Ring at some point, though I am not sure of how much I shall learn about teenage behaviour from it. The director, Sofia Coppola, conducted her research by “hanging out with teenagers in Los Angeles”. I am not sure how long she “hung out” for. If it was an in-depth sociological study lasting months if not years (as with some of the studies into youth gang culture) then I suppose it may be informative.

The Telegraph article itself gives me no cause for optimism, as it cites what seems to me to be highly questionable statistics.

“Studies of American teens show that 93 per cent of them enjoy access to the internet and roughly two-thirds go online once a day. Over 70 per cent are on a social network and 41 per cent of Facebook users say that they check their account obsessively. What are they looking at? Over 80 per cent are leaving comments on photos or updating their banal statuses (they’re not debating macroeconomics or planning a bank heist, they’re “liking” photos of cats). In all, the evidence suggests that teens are big users of the internet but not really into “content creation” – they don’t have a large amount of original things to say or share. That’s not surprising: they haven’t even started living yet.”

“… teens … {are] not really into “content creation. They don’t have a large amount of original things to say or share”? In my experience teens are hugely original and have lots of things to say and share – and that is in school where you’d think their creativity would be least in evidence (sad to say)! There are tons of examples all over the web of kids blogging, writing fiction, and creating stuff. So, I don’t think much of these so-called studies. That’s assuming Handley has interpreted them correctly of course.

Further on in the article, another study is cited:

“According to a University of Winnipeg study, people who text more than 100 times a day are 30 per cent less likely to say that being ethical is important to them than people who text less than 50 times a day. The conclusion: absorption in social media can turn youngsters into careless zombies.”

I haven’t seen the original study, but it seems to me that there’s a good chance the direction of causality (if indeed there is one) is the other way round. But what a ridiculous criterion anyway! Maybe the people who text only less than 50 times a day have so little contact with other human beings that all they can think about is how ethical they are. Or maybe people who are relentlessly self-righteously ethical have alienated themselves from so many people that they have hardly anyone left who they can send texts to.

In my opinion, the most sensible people to comment on teen behaviour is the experts – teens. See, for example, Sarah Hillier’s article A Teen's View of "Their Space" and Internet Safety. It is witty, incisive and right on the button.

And now I am off to update my Facebook status….

cross-posted on www.ictineducation.org

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Computers in Classrooms."


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