Social media is less than a decade old. Obviously, when I was a teenager there was no Facebook or Twitter yet. I am so glad for that. At one point or another in our teenage years, we all acted like space cadets. But at least only a handful of people close to us will remember what we said or did. Even our own memory of what happened in the past can become a bit blurry. That is a good thing because some things are best forgotten.
The thought of acting like a complete idiot and documenting it online gives me goose bumps. If I had Facebook then, what ever I said in my period of giddiness could still be dug up in Google’s cache for everyone to read today or years later on. This is something that not a lot of people bother to consider when they participate in discussions even with strangers they meet online.
You can compare it with getting a tattoo and then regretting it later on. At least there is a procedure now to remove unwanted tattoos but the stuff written online is more permanent. You never know who has kept a copy of what you wrote in cyberspace.
Nowadays, kids in their “tweens” – those in preadolescence, that is, in the range of 9 to 12 years old or those who are not even supposed to be on Facebook yet, have profiles on such social networking sites. People at that age are still very vulnerable to misinterpreting what they read. US First Lady, Michelle Obama even weighed in on what she thought about kids being on Facebook. She said: “I’m not a big fan of young kids having Facebook…you know, it’s not something they need.” Of course, she is right, indeed.
Teenagers have not yet developed the ability to process and gauge the consequences of reading or revealing information on social networking sites. Recent studies have shown that the human brain becomes fully developed only after we reach our mid-twenties. The technology today puts careless words; inappropriate photographs or intimate details on permanent record and is freely available for anyone to access. A mistake you make as a teenager can cost you that dream job later on when your future employer stumbles across some dirt about you. They may even dig up some information about you intentionally before hiring you just because it is so easy to do so.
As reported in one of the news items found on the Net, Baroness Greenfield, the Oxford University neuroscientist and former director of the Royal Institution said that social networking sites “shortened children’s attention spans, encouraged instant gratification and made young people more self-centred.”
I can totally believe how some people can acquire an overdeveloped narcissistic tendency from hanging out in social networking sites. Prior to Facebook and Twitter, some people’s preoccupation included activities such as stamp collection â€“ something harmless to them and to other people. Nowadays, social outcasts can reinvent themselves into modern day Casanovas behind their computer screens. Middle-aged men are even free to chat with women half their age and boast about their conquests as if they were God’s gift to women.
The problem arises when people — especially young people — blur the lines between gossip and fact and begin to fail to appreciate the difference between the two. And it can be particularly very difficult to tell which is true and which is made up when people read something online. A classic example of this is when some people actually thought that the satirical publication Mosquito Press was a legitimate source of news and information. It can become costly and embarrassing when people are gullible enough to believe everything they read.
It is unfortunate too that there are even some adults in their forties or fifties who have an under-developed sense of propriety. They find it difficult to figure out which of their actions is inappropriate or unsuitable for public broadcast. Sadly, they are the ones leading in cyber bullying and harassment. They do this because they think they are “cool.” Some kids actually think they are because they learn a lot of taboo topics from them. Unbeknownst to others, these adults are quite possibly just masking their empty lives and channelling their loneliness by spending time preying on kids young enough to be their own. They are also trying to emulate Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner by surrounding themselves with young people as much as possible to keep feeling young. Or because most of their contemporaries have moved on to have fulfilling lives.
I do not think that the founders of social networking sites intended their sites to be used as a tool to engage in unproductive and wasteful activities. Mark Zuckerberg does want us to stay connected but in a good way. The question of what happened to our high-school crush is no longer a mystery thanks to Facebook. And of course Zuckerberg wants us to click on the numerous ads on his site while we upload or look at photos of our friends.
Personally, I am proud of the fact that I did not accumulate a lot of friends on Facebook. Who wants to see their “newsfeed” inundated with extraneous information everyday anyway? But because I try not to log on too often, I do worry about updates that scroll off my page into digital oblivion without me having had the chance to check them out yet. Nowadays, the Internet bombards us with so much information that we don’t need in a way that oftentimes distracts us from engaging properly with the real world. Fun and all at best but also addictive and unproductive at worst.
James Franco recently shut down his Twitter account and boldly announced that “social media is over.” Whether his prediction is true or not, it is obvious that the actor found Twitter quite boring. Now I haven’t tried Twitter yet but I think someone as long-winded as me will have trouble trying to fit in everything I have to say in 140 characters or less. And what is the point of it anyway? What do people get out of it? If the goal is to be able to express myself, as a blogger, limiting it to a certain number of characters per entry just plain sucks.
Even a US study had found that more than half the posts consumed on Twitter were made by just 20,000 users out of the 260 million twitter users registered on the social networking site. Only a few celebrities, media organizations and bloggers published the tweets most regularly viewed or retweeted.
In other words, regular folks who tweet may just be tweeting into a big void where nobody is listening. But the good news for me is that, the study also found “that organizations tended to follow industry-related bloggers rather than business news twitterers.” That might be the only single reason I would consider joining Twitter belatedly — although joining twitter might worsen my developing attention deficit disorder. I might become addicted to some famous person’s life and to the constant interruption that distracts me from my own non-famous existence. I certainly don’t need that.
If used properly, social media is a tool that can do a lot of good for developing nations. After 30 years, Egyptian youths have finally deposed ex-President Mubarak thanks to a revolution that was supposedly sparked by social networking sites. And some other despot’s head might also roll soon due to the success of what has been dubbed “revolution 2.0”, which has gone viral across the rest of the Arab nations.
Here in the Philippines, social networking sites have contributed to the pressure on disgraced television host, Willie Villarame and the executives of TV5 to change their tune. Due to the barrage of twitter messages and blog articles calling for a return to a more decent programming due to Revillame’s alleged “child abuse” of a six-year old boy on the show, the TV host is now in hiatus and the future of the show in its current format in tatters.
Hopefully, this is the start of a real revolution in the Philippines. With the help of social media, more Filipinos will be enlightened with the truth and be emboldened to clamor for real change that will result in real progress for the nation. Now that is something that should be permanently recorded on the Net.
[Image (slightly enhanced) courtesy Charis Tsevis]
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