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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

(Anti-) Social Media And Your Kids

For those of us in the, let's call it the more mature generations, for those of us in the more mature generations the past couple of years has been one with a lot of learning about new technology. With the explosion of Facebook and Twitter almost every industry has had seminars and "experts" (how long does a new product or process need to be available before you can be an "expert?") coaching adults in their late thirties and older as to how to most effectively use the sites to improve their businesses.

Along with LinkedIn and My Space, Facebook and Twitter have been dubbed "Social Media" (while some use "social networking" I prefer media since to me social networking is a cocktail party). While Twitter has evolved to have mostly older users than Facebook or My Space, Linked In is almost strictly business networking and appears to be falling behind the more popular Facebook for the more mature generations. As for My Space, my understanding from browsing and inquiries is the site is not so popular with older folks like me and is more late teens and under 30s age brackets--I could be wrong but that is my impression.

While "friends" in the post college generations are welcomed when they come into the Facebook community with posts from friends "so great to see you on FB, you will love it!" the younger crowd assumes all their friends are already logged on and sharing their photos, music, videos and status. Like getting a cel phone and texting their BFF before they see if it can call home, teenagers assume anyone with a computer and Mom's permission will have a Facebook account. Key to that phrase is Mom's permission. There are no seminars at Obscure Former Educator Middle School teaching kids how to use Facebook to better their studies and become more productive and reach more prospects. Kids inantely know how the software works and quickly adapt to any changes. If you want proof, if you have any nieces, nephews, grandchildren, under 18 on Facebook take a look at their Wall and Profile compared to yours--they get it.

They get it because our children have grown up, or are growing up, with technology we had to learn how to use many years after college. I'm 47 and if you are my age or older you were over twenty when a company called Apple brought the Macintosh computer to market. Somewhere in your garage is a box with "Animal House" on Beta. You remeber when only doctors had car phones, hell you still call your mobile device a car phone half the time. Chances are the first portable cellular phone you saw was a "brick" with a battery that lasted two phone calls to the office or one call to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Many in our generation still do not know how to text on their mobile phone or burn a CD of their favorite music on their laptop.

Our kids, and I'm saying our kids are anyone in college or younger, intuitively know how to use all of this stuff. Have you seen a 14 year old girl working the buttons sending a text? First it is an entirely different language filled with abbreviations and acronyms, second the kids fingers remind one of a Western Union telegraph operator (for the younger readers call Grandpa to explain telegraph). They are constantly connected and communicating with their friends and social circle. While I do not have teenagers yet, my experience from those that do is it is normal for them to be working their Facebook pages, texting friends and taking calls all at the same time--multi-tasking social interaction. They never leave communication and if they do word spreads like wildfire, "OMG POS Out" because parent is over their shoulder and they have to sign off for a while.

Not only are they texting and posting on each others social media pages, but they are now using Skype or other software for live tele-conferencing with friends--they can never leave each others site. BFF, Best Friends Forever.

When I left high school for college I knew I would never see most of my classmates again. I was in a pretty unique situation since my high school was in Brussels, Belgium and almost all of my classmates who were returning to the States for college were going to be on the East Coast and I would be on the West Coast. But we also knew that our high school was not like most of our peers experience, going "home" meant something different for us than our new classmates at college. There was letter writing to stay in touch and eventually, at least for me, that fell by the wayside for most of my high school friends as our lives changed and we became more ingrained in life at our colleges, then new jobs and careers. While my high school experience was unique for my generation, my college experience was not that much different when it came to socializing and new relationships. Some of my classmates would frequently go home if they lived locally, or maintained the high school romance at first, a few lasted past Christmas break of freshman year, but those visits and relationships tended to diminish over time. They diminished because the communication and interaction was focussed within the college campus and the friends and relationships that created new and shared experiences that were not transported back to high school relationships.

It is harder to maintain a relationship with a monthly or quarterly letter, with a brief visit over busy holiday or summer schedules, when new relationships are developing with peers who are in the same position of being fairly shut off from communication with previous relationships and forced by proximity and length of time to forge new ones. Through the process we matured, mostly, wandered through the awkwardness of transition from teenager to adult, and prepared for careers and possibly families with support, encouragement and advice from others sharing our experience.

Many of those reading this will be remembering their college and young adult years and relate to what I am addressing, we cast off many of our old relationships and roles within our high school social groups and grew into our new selves and roles. We did this because it took effort to communicate with our prior social groups and friends, and at some point the cost-benefit analysis of the effort versus the reward caused the effort not to be worth it.

Today the entire social fabric of college life has changed due to the technology available to the students. A young woman of eighteen leaving home and travelling to college 1,000 miles away is in no less contact with her high school social circle than she is when sitting at home on Wednesday night. She can text. She can post on Facebook. She can email. She can take a picture or video with her phone and send it instantly sharing her experience. She can log onto Skype and see and hear her BFF. Or her boyfriend. She stays connected to her comfort zone and social circle where her role is defined and without missing a beat her relationships do not change.

Multiply this by one thousand and all the freshmen women on her campus are engaged in the same behavior. Any new experience is not unique but instantly shared with high school friends in Denver, Miami, Omaha or Los Angeles. If something is wrong or support is needed instead of crying on a roommates shoulder and open up to someone new, pick up your mobile phone and start texting those who know you best. Every student is already in several relationships that they carry with them in their pocket or on their waist--where do the new relationships fit in?

A few parents with kids going away for college are concerned about their kids shutting down their instant communication enough to live their own experience at college and forge their new relationships that will carry them through the rest of their lives. Concerned that the roles their kids have been assigned in high school will follow them to college, be the role positive or not, and hinder their ability to grow into their true selves and mature based on their own decisions and actions not filtered by a peer group created when they were thirteen or fourteen. Concerned that going away to college and the independence that teaches is diminished by dragging the social network to school with them.

How easy is it to blow off the guy from Sociology of Tazmanian Monkeys who wants to take you to pizza on Wednesday night if you are still spending a few hours each day/night on Skype with your high school boyfriend? How easy is it to ignore the proximity of the girls in your room cramming for a macroeconomic class when you have your cell phone and Lauren who is at BC is in a tizzy because James her high school beau has had the same girl in the last five pics he sent yesterday and today? How easy it is to go through four years of college 1,000 miles away and never leave home?

Social media is new to the adults. Many of us are using Facebook like an interactive high school year book, many of us have reconnected with old friends from high school--who was supposed to send the last letter and did not that stopped our relationship and communication? We are joining the social media sites and communication techniques late in life with strong and established relationships in our home, our neighborhood, our work, our church, our community, relationships formed and forged as adults.

Our younger generations are not using the social media as much to form new relationships but to stay connected to their "old" relationships--old being the four years of high school. Is this healthy for the social development of the generation? Will the current generations that grow up with the instant communication technology have gaps in socialization and communication that previous generations learned through the independence of maturing away from home and the comfort of high school? How will this affect their abilities to lead? Solve problems? Manage departments or companies?

UPDATE: I saw this cartoon from Mike Smith (no relation, though my brother's name is Mike Smith) in the Press-Telegram this morning after writing this post--very appropriate for the subject.


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