29 Mar 2011

socially networked

Talking about teens and technology in a room full of library students is a trip.

Most of my classmates are in their mid-twenties, with a bit of distribution higher or lower, which means most of us have used computers since elementary school, the Internet since middle school, Facebook since college, et cetera. We are pretty digitally savvy/integrated although we aren’t quite as “digitally native” as the teen patrons we hope to someday serve.

By the way, if I hear or say the term “digital native” one. single. more. time, I am really going to shoot myself in the eye. Seriously.

Anyway, even though we are online-type people, we still, as a group, have quite a few hang-ups regarding teen use and Internet use in general.

  • It’s great that teens can find social communities online when their human communities fail them, but it can be dangerous….. if you’re not anorexic or suicidal when you first touch a computer, you probably will be before the end of the year, and what about their social skills? Are they just going to meet people and fall in love and get married on Second Life?!?! HOLY MOLEY!
  • The Internet makes things EASIER and FASTER and MORE FUN! But if you read Sparknotes, you might as well put your application in at McDonalds. And you’ll just never learn to write properly in a text message box and with all those windows open all the time distracting you from Deep Thinking, so kiss your English major dreams goodbye.
  • If you’re a teenager, you shouldn’t give your mom your Facebook password. That’s just stupid. But your parents and your school should have taught you “net safety” tips – don’t give out your address, take a hooker-picture in your bathroom mirror, send your boyfriend a naked text – so you can be a responsible Internet user. In other words – you can use technology, but NOT LIKE THAT!

What really got me thinking was our chats about Facebook. The class was open to the idea of Internet as an addiction, as if the existence of technology creates a need to use said technology that was not there before. On a personal level, I completely agree, and I constantly assess the way technology affects my life and my choices and whatever. I try to control the amount of time I spend on the fun Internet things, the number of subscriptions and memberships and tools I use and subscribe to.

But at what point does something “cool” become something “essential?”

The class example was Facebook. Most people in the room, I’m assuming, use Facebook socially. The conversation turned to the weirdness of teens having hundreds of friends on Facebook they didn’t know (“Why is that necessary?”), the weirdness of needing to check Facebook constantly (“I quit for a year, voluntarily, and I found other things to do”), the weirdness of people spreading information “inappropriately” through Facebook (“I found out my friend was PREGNANT! On FACEBOOK. WHAT THE HELL?!” “Somebody posted that they ate a SANDWICH? On FACEBOOK? WHAT THE HELL!?!”), and why do we all NEED to be online so much anyway? (“I barely use Facebook, gawd, you guys are all addicted).

And I started to balk.

So people are checking Facebook too much, and people are putting more and more information out there and the rules of “conduct” for spreading information online is changing.

How can you ask people – especially – teens to “opt out” of technology because you think the whole thing is WEIRD and OBSESSIVE?

Like I said, I’ve thought about this in my own life, about whether I’m “addicted” to checking my email and my Facebook.

And yeah, I probably am addicted to the process, to the clicking and the reading and the feeding boredom perpetually without pausing to think.

But there’s nothing about FACEBOOK itself that is inherently bad.

It’s just the place where my friends are, the place where people “hang out” on the Internet, the place where we exchange information – important and not. I feel connected to my friends and family that live far away by reading a stupid status telling me they are tired because they had to work late, and they feel connected to me. If I didn’t have Facebook chat, I wouldn’t be able to talk to one of my best friends who is stationed overseas, or see pictures of her new baby. If a friend from college was visiting or moving to Boston, I would have no idea, we wouldn’t meet up for lunch or a cup of coffee even though I would probably like to.

If I decided to go the Puritanical route and give up Facebook for good, it would be like closing my bedroom door to the weird community of people in my life, past and present.

Facebook isn’t just a random url, a time-suck, a dirty habit.

It’s a tool.

Well played, Mark Zuckerberg.

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