Last night on the ABC’s Q and A programme (or #QandA as I think of it) a question was posed:
“Do you think that it’s a concern that Facebook and other social networking sites are encouraging a society of self-obsession and increasing the pressure to appear to be a success?”
A high school friend and I who both, as marginalized teens, used the social opportunities of the Internet to find supportive peer groups jumped to its defence in the Twitter #qanda conversation.
My own personal knee-jerk uneducated answer to the question is that social media are tools, and you make of a tool what you will. People who have self-obsession within themselves and feel pressure to appear successful outside of social media are going to view social media as tools to fuel those things (although perhaps not consciously). I’m not saying it’s black and white, either you care or you don’t care about whether people from high school think you’re a success because you got a job telemarketing for Telstra at 18-years-old.
For most teens, what you do the year after you finish high school is sort of a big deal. If social media was around in 2000 I suspect I would have been hiding what I was up to from my high school year group. I repeated my final high school year at a college and I am still embarrassed about it, but at 27 I am also capable of owning it. Of course, I’d like to think that were I 17 again, I would actually just have rejected Facebook friend requests from high school people with whom I was not actually friends – however, I’m not so different to myself ten years ago, and I have accepted a load of requests from high school people whose Internet etiquette was so poor they didn’t even bother with a personalised message and have never actually initiated direct communication with me, just added me to their tally.
Thing is, these days, I don’t much bother about what someone thinks of me if they’re not a person who I care for and respect. What I do care about is having control over what they know about me. So I generally give some thought to what information I provide. Yes, I have my Twitter, Facebook and blog all linked together, but I also don’t disclose anything on them that I wouldn’t be capable of owning if confronted by it in meat space. I have never, ever set my relationship status on Facebook, for example. For some people it’s fun and fine – to me it’s a massively creepy broken heart clip art if a relationship is over, regardless of how the participants in the relationship feel about its conclusion.
In the paediatric unit we’re taking at uni this semester the Internet, online bullying and predators come up often. I can’t say much about the bullying, since no-one at school could find me online when I was in a position to be bullied, but I definitely know about Internet predators. The place that was my Internet haven was also a pretty good haven for such predators – HOWEVER! Not only did I have an excellent relationship with my technology-literate mother, I also had older sibling figures within my online social circle to whom I could have turned. Newspapers and (God forbid) Today Tonight, ACA, etc. often portray children online as totally vulnerable and in need of protection and yes, that’s kind of true – but the protection they need is having an open, honest relationship with at least one adult to whom they can turn if things go wonky. Children with a support network aren’t so vulnerable.
While things are obviously different now to ten years ago, I’m a child of the Internet, and I used it as a positive tool with which to enhance my life as an adolescent. I still use it that way now. If approached in that manner, by children who have a supportive, mature role model in their lives, I think we can step away from social media just being something you use to stalk the girl in high school you hated and laugh at how she has chosen different things for her life than you have for yours.
I’d love to just be able to say to all the people who worry about this: Protect yourself, but also don’t care about the opinions on your life held by those that are meaningless to you.