Monday, May 5, 2014

Get off my digital lawn

It consistently makes me giggle when I see a new round of 'young people spend too much time on social media' posts on Facebook.  The fact that this is a constant thing, that older folks get on social networks to share articles and gripes about the use of social networks by younger folks, just leaves me boggled.  I want to hold up a picture of Mark Zuckerberg and shout "This guy right here, he is laughing at you, just so you know."

There are downsides to young folks spending large amounts of time on Facebook but I think the adults of the world need to sit back and take a serious look at exactly what this is doing to them and why it happens before getting their feathers all ruffled.  First off, there is a persistent idea that somehow these kids won't learn to talk to people because they spend all their time typing to people.  I would need some pretty convincing evidence to support that thesis, particularly since even people who spend an awful lot of time checking Facebook updates still spend hours a day interacting with people face to face.  If a teenager says "I am going to do some studying and then for a jog" we don't say "But you should talk to people, you might not learn that skill otherwise!"

I also wonder why people are surprised that young folks end up doing this so much when we try so hard to force them into it.  If you want children to run around free and spend time with each other then you had best not keep them inside, locked away from the world, all in the name of safety.  By the time most children are teens our schools, government, and their parents have consistently been sending for a decade the message that they should stay inside where it is safe.  Is it any wonder that they end up picking up their phones and spending huge amounts of time texting from home instead of running around like the idealized and mostly fictional children of yesteryear?

It all smacks of rose coloured glasses to me.  People remember the good ole days of hunting for crawdads down by the pond a la Tom Sawyer and forget the terrible isolation that children who were different felt.  These days no matter what way you don't conform to the norm you can at least find people online who feel like you do, who have survived what you are dealing with, and you can know for sure that you are not alone.  The power of increased connectivity is enormous and we aren't even close to seeing the end of the changes it will bring to our society.  It concerns people when they look at their children and see activities they have never taken part in, ideas they don't understand, and norms they cannot fathom but it doesn't mean the kids are doing anything wrong.

The real issue is pathologizing the behaviour.  Talking to people online isn't a sickness, it isn't a disease, it isn't antisocial, and it isn't stunting their emotional / intellectual / social growth.  It is something new, a different way of being, an alternate social bonding style.  If the kid in question has other issues then those issues are what you should be worried about, rather than their choice of communication medium.  Want them to get more exercise, study more, get out of the house, or find a job?  Great, go for it, but do understand that hopping online and hitting Like and Share on the latest Facebook is Bad post isn't going to accomplish that goal.


  1. The fact that you think kids are still on Facebook demonstrates your geezer cred. Facebook is where the grown-ups are, don't you know.

  2. "People remember the good ole days of hunting for crawdads down by the pond a la Tom Sawyer"

    That is, people who read Tom Sawyer in their teens and have replaced their actual memories of childhood with it.

    "Back in my day I used to wander around in the woods and get lost and wander through caves for days. That builds character! Also, I found a box of gold."

  3. Are you watching Rake? If "yes" I'm awesome. If "no" there is a funny coincidence in this post:)

  4. I have no idea what Rake is.