Leave them kids alone
Social networking among young people is partly the result of parents keeping them indoors. Helicopter (read paranoid) parents wouldn’t let them hang out in parks, shopping centres or anywhere else for that matter. Packing their schedules with after-curricular activities, they couldn’t just wander and hang-out, so they began to hang-out online. Parental anxiety produced the networked society. Then parents turned on all of this wasted, online time and wanted to get them back out into the fresh air, the real world. Finally, parents started to social network themselves and relaxed a little. Turns out the kids were fine all along.
I want to be in my gang
All of this is OK. Kids don’t blog as they don’t have a lot of long-winded stuff to say, so they say lots of little, often inconsequential things within their peer group. And listen up parents/adults - you ain’t in their peer group. Despite what they tell you, you’re not their friends. They don’t want you there. They don’t want you in their gang, and they don’t want to be in your gang either. This becomes more intense as they become sexually charged teenagers, still mostly ‘look at me’, ‘chat’ and ‘party’ stuff. It’s the confirmation of the group that matters not the content or ‘networking’ (that’s a parent term). Neither is all of this disassociated from the real world. It emerges from real world relationships and is mostly about real world events – pics, tales about last night, where we going next and so on. Young people don’t confuse the two, only worried parents.
You may imagine that social networking breaks down barriers between classes, gender and age. Not particularly. The social divisions remain. MySpace was for everyone but when Facebook with its university and college pedigree came along, it sucked in the wanabees. Now that Facebook has seen a mass colonisation by adults, we see young people flooding out the back door.
Twitter – adult only content
Twitter is not used by young people because adults use Twitter – it’s too public. They want personal branding, socialising, privacy and their own place to play, somewhere the adults don’t snoop. They don’t want a functional, open, online, snoopers’ diary. They don’t want older people to know where they are what they’re thinking and what they’re saying to each other.
Adults, on the other hand, are more purposeful on Twitter. They want everyone to know what they’re up to. They rattle on about civil liberties but are far more promiscuous with their privacy. They don’t hang out in the real world and neither do they online. They’re busy, busy, busy and want to tell everyone just how busy they are. There’s little time for nonsense – well maybe sometimes to show you’re human. Twitter is remarkably free of humour and honest tweets about lazing around, getting sizzled, arguments – real life stuff. It’s like reading lots of tiny classified ads.
Kids are synchronous, adults asynchronous
Youngsters are big on IM but dismissive of email. They like their conversations to be multithreaded, quick, funny, and frothy. They want dialogue not a series of monologues. IM gives them effervescence and privacy. Hence the messenger acronyms; POS – Parents Over Shoulder, POTS – Parents Over The Shoulder, PRW – Parents Are Watching, P911 – Parent Alert, PIR – Parent in Room. Kids are synchronous beings, adults asynchronous. Adults much prefer Facebook status reports and Tweets.
Social networking is not networking
Of course almost none of this social networking is actually about networking, in the sense of meeting new people. It’s about networking with the people you already know or lie just on the periphery of that set – one or two degrees of separation at most. Social networking is a myth, it’s socialising largely with people you know.
Realguard (sic) actions by Andrew Keen and Susan Greenfield will attempt to stop progress by creating PR friction, but the numbers are too big and they’re not read by the participants of social networking. Social networks, at present, are emergent phenomena, as they largely reflect and reinforce social groups, rather than creating social groups. This is unlikely to remain true for long. It turns out Robin Dunbar’s social grouping limit of 30 and 150 were wrong. Social networks are pushing people out of their social comfort zone. Encounters with people of different ages, social class and geography are pushing everyone to be, little by little, more adventurous. Who knows where this will lead.