What is Social Media REALLY Doing to Us?

21 12 2011

I keep my finger on the pulse of real teen culture, all the time. I’m constantly talking to teenagers and preteens, surfing “teen” internet sites, reading articles and books about teens, reading the novels that teenagers are devouring, and researching what teenagers are in to.

So trust me when I say that I’m seeing some pretty strong red flags from today’s teenagers, when it comes to social media.

Much like the way that Abercrombie & Fitch lost its appeal when middle-aged moms started shopping there, Facebook and Twitter’s shiny newness and loyal adoration is losing footing amongst the teenage set, who increasingly complain to me about how “idiotic” the whole notion is, and how they are “so sick of hearing people say stupid things” online and in text messages.

Boy, I couldn’t have guessed that–kids would get sick of the drama that hounds them every day at school when it follows them home, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, and never-ending texts?

Doesn’t take a genius, folks.

But complaints and annoyances aside, I can’t help but ponder the effects of social media on our culture as a whole.

For one, a natural sense of privacy is being unraveled left and right, all over the place. People regularly carry their phones into the bathroom with them and continue texting and talking and posting, even if they’re in a public restroom. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you haven’t been to a movie theater or mall bathroom in the last year or two. I’ve seen teenagers do this in my own apartment. What should be arguably the most private place in your daily life is being infiltrated by people with bad manners and no sense of dignity.

I won’t even mention the fact that I know several teenagers who put their cell phone in a plastic baggy so they can continue texting while they shower…oops, I did.

Obviously, a lot is being discussed right now about how poor spelling, sentence construction, and even critical thinking skills are being dumbed down by people who text shortened words, slang, and half-thoughts more frequently than ever. But I sense that bigger issues could stem from communicating solely through short texts–we could not only lose the emotion behind words, but also the ability to truly decipher the meaning of others’ words. If all you ever do is text with someone, how do you know what they really mean when they say, for instance, “I’m going to kill myself?” Without reading their body language, tone of voice, facial expression, or observing their delivery of the phrase, one could easily misjudge the seriousness or humor of the situation.

Sure, social media is a valuable tool for sharing the often overlooked details of life with those you love. In my case, as someone who’s lived in 5 different states and lives apart from both sides of my family, I’m able to stay connected with friends and relatives all across the country. But it could be argued, overconnects us and gives us a false sense of importance. Why else do we think that others care what we had for breakfast, where we went shopping this afternoon, what we purchased, what shows we’re watching on television, and how our hair looks today?

As cute as it may be, do we really need to know what others think of their baby’s garbled sentences, or what books they’re reading, or that “we’re making chocolate chip cookies today with mini-chocolate chips–yum!”?

Isn't this enough for the world to know about me?!

I’m startled by the upcoming changes in Facebook’s new “Timeline” platform, which will splay my entire life across the internet–unless I take quite a bit of action to patrol photos, messages, friends, and status updates in advance. As Facebook’s Mick Johnson said, “As you scroll down, you’ll see your posts, photos and life events as they happened, back to the day you were born” and co-founder Mark Zuckerburg adds, “What Timeline does is show all the recent activity and then as you back in time it starts summarizing the things you’ve done in your life”.

Sure, on one hand, that’s compelling. No doubt many of us will have pleasant memories, inside jokes, and forgotten friendships drift back into the limelight. But since when do I need an automated system “summarizing the things I’ve done in my life”? Why does anyone want to see my entire life, “back to the day I was born”?

I’m more than the sum of my Facebook posts and photos–and I fear that the result of this may be just that: we’ll judge each other as the sum of our Timelines, and nothing more. We’ll know every detail of our days, every awkward stage, every like and dislike, every boyfriend and best friend, every family member–but will we actually know what each other’s laughs sound like? Or how we crinkle up our noses when we react to something unpleasant? Or how we sing off-key, hate when people chew on pens, or how we jiggle our foot when we’re antsy?

In other words, what happens when only the highlights (or low points) of our lives are on display to the entire world?

I don’t have enough time to sift through all the implications of the effect that social media will have on upcoming elections, careers, and reputations. But think about it–the future president of the United States is coming from my age group. No doubt he or she is deeply involved in social media right at this moment. All those silly inside jokes, off-color comments, embarrassing photos that they’re posting right now will be displayed for the world to see in the future.

Arguably, the campaign for public offices begins as soon as you activate your Facebook or Twitter account, no matter what your age–because once it’s out there on the internet, you can never truly take it back.

The fact that what you say in the heat of the moment, a drunken state, or in jest could permanently ruin a friendship, a run for office, your education, career or reputation, is a daunting one. 

We all have ups and downs in life, and we make errors in what we say and do. But when every thought that comes to mind is immediately transcribed and published to upwards of 700 “friends”…or when a stupid decision is broadcasted to your entire university…or when every co-worker sees the picture of you doing something idiotic…what’s the long-term effect?

Besides, as writer Dick Staub succinctly summarizes, we are now living in a world where “networking replaces craftsmanship”. As he writes in his own blog

“Today, thanks to technology, everybody can distribute written words, musical compositions or homemade films. Some of these are quite good and deserve a broader hearing and viewing; some are not, probably most. But most think they are worthy and good! (Think of the talentless contestants auditioning for American Idol). This monster of boundless indiscriminate self-expression is due in part to America’s educational philosophy of affirmation absent objective critique. Kids have been told they are really good at things they are absolutely not good at. Technology allows them to give it a go anyway! The elitist, snooty gatekeepers of the past are being displaced by the often intellectually and creatively clueless consumers of the present. They decide what is worthy, though generally ill equipped to distinguish craft from crap.”

So I ask again–what do YOU think social media is really doing to us?



I’m 25, and Being Bullied. Seriously.

3 12 2010

I never expected that, at the age of 25, I would experience my first real battle with bullying.

But, as I sit here in my office, surveying my desk–now devoid of several precious objects–I have to admit it:

I’m being bullied…by a bunch of guys who are bigger than me.

Oh, that’s not to say that I haven’t ever dealt with this issue of meanness. I went through middle school, after all–that horrible age when girls are ready to claw your eyes out and then pretend to be your best friend to your face as soon as you walk back to your seat from the pencil sharpener.

Or, in my case, threatened to break my legs and chop my long blonde hair off. And did things like smear Twinkies in my friends’ faces and throw sharpened pencils across the room at each other.

I first started dealing with bullies in grade school. First grade, to be precise. Somehow, I caught the attention of the grade’s biggest bully, Elizabeth–and we continued to battle like angry rams throughout the seven years I was at that school. I was pretty much the only kid in my grade that ever stood up to her–boys included–and when my popularity eventually eclipsed the web of fear she had cast over my classmates, I relished my role as the triumphant victor. My classmates were free from her tyranny, finally able to enjoy their lives, as I was the quintessential “good girl” who was nice to everyone (except Elizabeth, of course).

How did I manage this exceptional feat?

Long story short–she ended up stuffed in a trash can in the locker room.

And she never really bothered me much after that.

In the years since grade school, I’m actually surprised that I was never bullied again. Sure, there were a few isolated incidents here and there–for instance, the boys in 8th grade used to pull my hoodie over my head and tie my strings in a knot behind my back, so I helplessly flopped around the classroom like a patient from the mental ward with a few loose strands of hair and one eye peeking out between the folds of fabric.

And even now, I have to admit that it wasn’t a painful experience. In fact, it’s a prank I’ve been known to pull on some of my more aggravating students in the middle of winter. Shhh.

So you can imagine my dismay at this point, as I’m a quarter of a century old, upon finding myself being bullied.

I realize now, too late, that I’ve made several critical mistakes in working in an office setting:

  • I brought cool toys in, like a glittery bouncy ball that swirled magically, a cool modern hourglass, and a special zen art board.
  • I told people how much I liked these toys.
  • I told people that if these toys ever got stolen, my heart would be broken.

Naturally, now my bouncy ball and my hourglass are both gone.

And when I say gone, I actually mean “kidnapped”.

You see, the thief/thieves actually took pictures of the items, created Facebook pages and have been posting updates as the toys themselves, and have been making phone calls to me frequently–calls both from the toys, telling me how much they miss me, and from the captors, telling me to follow “a specific set of instructions if I ever want to see my toys again”.

I wish I was making this up. But in all seriousness, you can search Facebook and find “Cassie’s Ball” and “Cassie’s Hourglass” and add them as your friends, too. Currently, they have about 19 friends between them.

Unfortunately, I cannot pinpoint who the thief (or multiple thieves) is. He’s tricky enough to be calling me from a computer program that both disguises his voice and shows up as various staff members’ cell phone numbers–throwing me off the trail completely.

I’ve narrowed the suspect list down to a half-dozen guys I work with. And, in the last few days, I’ve grilled them–even going so far as to yell “hands up!” and make them all surrender their phones as I’m getting an incoming call from the thief.

No luck so far. But I’m confident that my detective skills will pay off in the long run. Besides, they don’t know about all the spies I’ve recruited to work for me.

They should’ve picked an easier victim. I am not going down without a fight.

I sometimes wonder if my life is really as random as it seems when I blog about it. I guess it is. Which, again, leads me to wonder–what would our office look like as a sitcom?