Facebook came around at the perfect time for me. It was my freshman year of college, and everyone had one. At the time only college students could join, making it the perfect tool to meet new people in your dorm, classes, and all over campus. Honestly, this was the social network’s heyday. School use only, geared toward students to augment all of the social aspects of higher education. Two years later high school students could join, and soon after that everyone. It wasn’t long until my friend’s parents had signed up and began commenting, liking and scolding their distant children from within my news feed. If there’s been a catalyst for my discontinued use of the service, this may have been it.
In facebook’s defense, it only made sense to continue it’s growth and expand beyond it’s initial intent. But the nostalgia of those first few years have disappeared.
I’m not writing this to outline my history or feelings toward the site though. It doesn’t really matter how much I do or don’t use it. I’m writing this for the younger generation. My little sister’s generation, who never knew a world without it and have no idea how to use it.
My little sister signed up for Facebook in January of this year. She had been begging my parents to let her sign up for six months. After a coach had asked them why she wasn’t on it hoping to use it to communicate with her, they gave in and let her create an account. She’s twelve by the way, one year younger than what the site officially allows.
I helped set her up, but with one huge condition; she let me teach her how to use it. You know, the basics. Don’t friend people you don’t know; the modern day equivalent of don’t take candy from strangers. Don’t over post; this stuff will be with you your entire life. Don’t say stupid stuff; you’re family are “friends” on it, they’re going to see this too. You know, the stuff my generation learned the hard way (back in my day and all that jazz…).
Within 24 hours she had surpassed me in friends and within 72 she had lapped me in wall posts, I think. I know more about my little sister now than I did when we were living under the same roof.
The problem is, no one ever taught her and her friends the do’s and don’ts of online life. There’s no class in school, and she sure didn’t listen to my advice. She over posts to her hearts content, and has been friending everyone that Facebook recommends to her.
I’m headed home now, and I fully plan on reading her the riot act for it. But honestly, who’s stopping her from doing all of this stuff. Facebook loves it; the more to advertise to you with my pretty. Her friend’s love it; they post as much, if not more. She’s never known another way to socialize, so real world social edicts that have translated to the virtual world for most adults, simply don’t exist. It’s not her fault, she just doesn’t know any better.
So what’s the solution to the problem? How can this generation learn how to interact with real people? I’m worried that the impacts of her generation learning this stuff from a web site will have life long implications.
Two things come to mind, but both require a higher authorities’ attention. As a society, we could make it mandatory that, in order to have an online profile, you must be 18 years of age. The argument here is similar to alcohol or cigarettes. You need to be mature to responsibly participate in social networks, and the results of partaking when you’re too young can have life long consciousness. You might not run your car into a tree from posting a picture, but nothing’s stopping you from handing over your entire life, good or bad. The implications of this are far from fully understood (creditors, insurance, employers and advertisers to name a few). Obviously this would require more government, and nobody wants that.
The other option is to teach kids about this stuff in school. It’s definitely not as important as science or math, but I’d say it’s up there with sex ed. and drug awareness. It wouldn’t be too difficult. One or two hours a week. Show them how to use it, and what can happen if they abuse it. Teach them about privacy and all of the negative consequences of over-sharing. There’s no saying if this would help, but at least we could say we tried.
An entire generation that has grown up with social media is a scary thought in it’s current form. I hope we can come up with a solution that is educational and practical.