After doing this week’s reading and reading some of my cohort’s posts, a couple things are even more clear than before about how our students and other young people use social media. Social media:

  • …platforms (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, etc.) are always being updated.
  • …platforms’ popularity are always shifting.
  • …platforms are used (or not used at all) by different groups depending on the community the users are trying to share with and what they’re trying to share.
  • …the platforms that make it easiest to communicate/post are generally the most popular.
  • …makes communication exceptionally rapid.
  • …can make communication exceptionally far-reaching (hence the apropos addition of the word “media“).
  • …has an informal set of rules, set by the community leaders (generally not adults) regarding who, what, when, where, why, and how to communicate. Appearing “needy” or over-eager seem to be the biggest faux pas. Sharing without permission, especially sexually explicit images of community members, is the most serious violation, obviously illegal, and can cause serious social and emotional issues.
  • …creates communities based on a variety of things, including geography (e.g. school), education/hobbies (e.g. COETAIL cohorts!, gaming), and social/political issues (e.g. global warming, gender equality, etc.).
  • …allows for connections and communities which would be otherwise impossible.
  • …is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • …can be asynchronous.
  • scares the hell out of parents.
  • isn’t a net (haha, no pun intended) negative, despite the alarmist rhetoric from those who don’t understand it (mostly adults).
  • …is just another example of technology giving us tools long before we’re emotionally mature enough to handle them without causing mild to serious harm to ourselves and others.

Can we just stop acting like letting kids use social media is the most dangerous thing in the world they could do besides play in a room full of malaria-infested mosquitoes or taunt an angry honey badger? The analogies we can make to objects and technologies that predate social media are numerous and highly relevant. Cars, guns, knives, alcohol, prescription drugs, etc., etc., and the list could almost literally go on forever. We always have and always will do things, thanks to our insatiable need to explore and communicate, which we’re not emotionally equipped to handle harmlessly.

I’m sure our parents we’re quite ready to let us drive alone when we did it the first time. I’m sure they breathed a huge sigh of relief the first few times we pulled back into the driveway. The moment we got out of sight, even if it was in our own neighborhood on a bike, they had to let go and hope we’d remember everything they taught us. Kids are hungry to explore, push the boundaries, interact with others of our tribe.

Image used, claiming Fair Use. “tumblr”-

Now, with the many social media options young people have, the most important community for them is…wait for it…their family. With the literally billions of people kids have just a keystroke away, they live with the most important people in their lives. Ok, I’ll admit, that surprised me. Thinking back to my own (pre-web) adolescence, it’s really no different. I was closest with those whom I was the closest to. In this exotic age of information and communication, that seems very banal.

But as similarly important proximity is to our social communication, there are some things which are very different. Not necessarily better or worse now than pre-web days, but definitely different.

Then and Now

The “Then” experiences are mine. Your mileage may vary depending on so many factors I don’t need to list them all.

  • One phone line for your entire household
    • If you’re 11 or older, you probably have your very own phone.
  • The household’s telephone line was the only way to communicate in real time with anyone outside your neighborhood.
    • With VOIP, instant messaging, and video chat, there are a myriad of ways to communicate in real time with anyone with or without an internet connection.
  • When you connected to a network via a modem, that connected desktop computer has sole access to the network.
    • Every home with an internet connection very likely has a wireless router, which can connect up to roughly 250 devices at once to the internet.
  • I could only share text via a very early version of email or bulletin board messaging. (Seriously, I was on non-internet electronic networks.)
    • Yeah, I know, let’s just make this easy by saying it’s easy and commonplace to share audio, video, user created/app assisted augmented reality animations, images, links, and documents of all types, attached, inline, or integral.

Social media has changed everything and nothing at the same time, mostly because people haven’t changed. The goals of socializing are the same for young people today as they were when I was growing up, but the speed, always-on nature of the internet, and the geographic range of social media today is vastly different. I could torture a lot of metaphors to draw parallels between socializing then and now, but I’m against torture.

No matter what the most popular platforms are, the characteristics of younger social media users tends towards easy of immediacy being able to display themselves authentically to differing group sizes, from Facebook, which is their most outward-facing persona, to showing off the carefully curated images they want to share on Instagram, to small group messaging on Snapchat, to direct messaging on any number of platforms.

They’re not married to any particular platform like adults often are. I recently removed myself from Facebook and it was a huge deal for me because Facebook has been the center of my social media universe since 2008. Platform loyalty doesn’t seem to be a huge deal for younger generations, though I doubt if they’d independently move any aspect of their digital social life to another platform by themselves.

In my professional life as a teacher, email is still a big thing because it’s more professional, more formal, and the barriers to sending email, however low they might be compared to pre-email days, are still higher than just about any acceptable form of communication in the adult world. I have gotten email from high school students when we’re talking about something relatively serious, like politics and social issues, but that’s not how they communicate with their peers.

Different (Key)strokes for different folks

As I mentioned above, social media use isn’t a net negative. The genie is out of the bottle and I want to know how, what, and why kids are using the platforms they’re using. I don’t want to socialize with them in the same way they do with their peers, that would be weird and inappropriate, but we should be trying to understand the new social media tools and techniques. We’re outsiders, but we can still be mentors. We have the benefit of perspective, and hopefully we can nudge them in the right directions when needed.