Adolescence, Part VI: Social Networking

Social networking and blogging is a phenomena, a poorly understood phenoma. So using The Cluetrain Manifesto and A Case Against Adolescence for reference, let’s discuss some background.

Mass production and mass media served to put power in the hands of less people. Mass production requires a large, relatively unskilled workforce. Mass media allowed the few to communicate message to the many. People, the masses, lost their voice.

Education, in many ways, followed suit. Mass education. Whether immature, mature, smart, athletic, all go through the same basic system at the same rate with the same people. The responsibilities given are largely menial. Grades are given in an artificial environment largely disconnected from the so-called real world. Sure, learning takes place, but what can be done with it? What meaningful responsibility is there? There are lots of restrictions though. There are far more now on teens than ever before. As Epstein says, adolescents are free to do immature things, but are not free to be adults with adult responsibility. Parents can be incredibly overprotective. While it’s better for a parent to care than not care, being protective isn’t the answer. Entering into their world and teaching them how to discern is.

Enter Social Networking. Now adolescents have a place to express themselves in a world where adults aren’t always telling them no, in a world that adults largely don’t understand. In MySpace, they have a space they can do what they want with and connect with the peer culture. Facebook did the same for college students. It connects us with each other. It’s not a replacement for social interaction, but a supplement. We can talk about what’s important to us and easily share it, publicly, with the world.

Blogs are part of this too, a more conversational way to express oneself, with the world. I’ve heard some talk about the pointless diatribes on blogs. Well, they don’t get it. A blog is not about being intellectually efficient, but about expression. I’ve heard that most bloggers are female. And based on what I’ve studied about female communication, women are more likely to put their emotions out there as a way to connect and release what’s going on inside. It’s not about the response, but about the expression (and this is, of course, not exclusive to women).

Yes, there are dangers to social networking, whether it be stalkers or putting too much private information out there. And yes, there are youth who are unwise online. But most use it to connect with their friends, not strangers. Many are also smart enough to limit who sees their private blog or at least use some discretion. The point: there are a lot of smart adolescents out there. Maybe that’s part of the problem though. It’s a world many adults don’t have the time, interest, or understanding to delve into, and being reactionary is just easier.

Lest it feels like I’m being too hard on post-adolescents, it is, honestly, hard to keep up on all this. This is a fast changing world. The world that adolescents are entering is not the adult world…it’s a world that doesn’t yet exist.