Recently I was at an event where a gentleman launched into a tirade about the evils of computers - an evil so great that he felt the need to remove all computers from his house and lock them away so his children would not be poisoned. There are times in life when I bite my tongue and walk away. This was not one of those times.
When I read e-media commentator, Jane Friedman's, rant about the Three Horrible Mistruths about Social Media, I thought it would be timely to add my rant to the mix.
- "Teenagers don't have genuine friendships online" - Sure there's a lot of trivia discussed through social media, in the same way that twenty adults at a party can stand around and discuss trivia for three hours, but social media has also opened the door to sharing emotions in a way that was unheard of when I was at school. Watching a group of teenagers supporting each other publicly on Facebook recently I was continually impressed by the willingness to openly express emotions and support for each other. Maybe my recollection of my school days is hazy but I'm pretty sure none of the guys I knew would ever send another guy love or say they missed them. Well, at least not when they were sober...
- "Social networking makes kids lonely" - I went to five different schools in three different cities. Every time I packed up and moved I did it on the understanding that I would probably never speak to any of those kids ever again. By contrast, my daughter has friends on four continents. She can chat (for free) to her friends in Australia whom she hasn't seen for years and keep up with kids who have recently left Ghana. And its not just other kids. We talked recently about adults whom she could contact if she had a problem. The people who she felt she could open up to were scattered across the globe and with each she had direct, immediate and private access. Loneliness is a state of mind, social media is a communication tool, the two should not be confused. When I think about this I imagine my grandmother standing in the kitchen on her farm, staring at a newly installed telephone and thinking 'Oh dear, I feel so lonely.'
- "Teenagers are being swamped by an information tsunami" - Whilst I appreciate the fear of information overload, I suspect that part of the problem lies in the fact that teenagers are being educated by people who are used to pre-qualified information. When we were at school our school and university libraries were vetted. Our chances of accessing wild and outrageous ideas were limited and what we watched on television was strongly influenced by our parents attitudes and values. Instead of railing at the providers of information and damning anything that doesn't come from an encyclopedia, we need to be teaching the art of critical thinking, teaching how to question sources. They (and we) need to learn how to look at facts and figures and not only ask whether they're correct but also who is providing the information? what are their vested interests? what do they stand to gain by me believing them? Never before have we had access to such a huge range of information. Similarly, never before have we had such tools at our disposal for pro-actively validating and filtering that information.
So that's my time on the soapbox. Share your views in the comments below.
photo credit: David Castillo Dominici