I’m a little tired of justifying my social media activity. Quite frankly I’m amazed more people my age, 48, have not realised that the world has changed. I recently spent some time with my parents and realised how disadvantaged the generation who can’t use the internet are. Twenty years ago a squeaking and spluttering dial-up modem was leading edge but the question then was – why do we need it? Now those without access pay more, are less well informed and have less leisure time.
I used to be one of the people looking puzzled at their children on Facebook and thinking they would be geniuses if they could apply the same passion to school work. And then I decided to give it a go. I think now many people of my age have adopted Facebook – some more successfully than others. Many will admit to having a page but are equally pleased to say they hardly ever go on. They only ever use it to see who other people are doing and to see the photographs. We are in danger of allowing our fears of identity theft, values of privacy and risk of embarrassment holding us back in the same way fear of technology held back some of our parents.
Worse than our own fears is our willingness to criticise the next generation. I don’t particularly like Facebook but I have tried it and participate through it. Instead of writing off the ‘social networking thing’ I tried Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Soundtrackin and Tumblr, started joining them up and through it found a SM presence that suited me. For me, the real test is in having friends I don’t really know.
I think the word ‘friend’ is part of the problem. We all have our own definition or multiple definitions and none of them quite fit the new paradigm of Facebook or similar. That first time when you reply to a tweet from a stranger, accept a friend you don’t fully know or have someone comment on your blogs is quite challenging. I like to think of it like the first few days of Freshers at university. Of course you could sit in the bar with a pint of Rusty Cobnut like a wallflower and bemoan that you are lonely or, more likely, you talk to everyone you meet in a desperate hunt for friends and flatmates. Its not chatting up… Its a process of survival in an alien world. After the awkwardness, you realise that everyone is in the same boat and there is a huge sense of relief and exhilaration. Meeting new people and hearing about their lives, loves and hopes is fascinating and enriching. Before long these newfound friends introduce you to people they were at school with and the people they have met and you do the same. The network soon grows and everyone feels better for the experience. To me, social networking is one ongoing Freshers week. We enjoy the excitement of meeting new people and Facebook and other SN apps are successful because they do it really efficiently, safely and with fun. We need to discard the assumption that children on computers are playing games or looking at porn. Or that children spending hours on computers alone in their bedroom is ‘wrong’ regardless of what they are doing. Children are really good at making friends – they’ve had to do it time and again through school and sport and we get much worse at it the older we get. Social networking has always existed – through friends, family, church, pub, sports clubs etc. The media has always got slicker allowing faster communication with more people – face to face, post, email. All that is happening now is the next generation and with it comes some very healthy attitudes of sharing, honesty, environmental awareness and care for others. Those people who have put a toe in the social water have just entered the Fresher’s bar (they’ve done the difficult bit), ordered their pint of Rusty Cobnut, turned round from the bar and faced the room. Now they just need to take the first step and say hello!