Prediction: Social media will be as ubiquitous as air. Prediction: Our kids (and the world) will be better off because of it.
Perhaps until recently (and I would say it is still prevalent among technophobes), there was a school of thought that people who hang out in virtual communities are a bit, well, wrong in the head. They must not be good with people or they would hang out in REAL communities, or so the thinking goes. I think it’s a philosophical hangover from the early tech days when everyone thought of programmers as mushrooms – they liked dark rooms and their computers. Not people. No, not even you. Normal people are part of real, human communities where you know the people and they aren’t digitized. Odd, techy people are into these virtual worlds. Right? Uh, no.
Today, social media is everywhere. And what IS that, you ask? LOL. You should ask your 12 year old. They will know. They use it.
I’m doing some work with a colleague who’s trying to bring new technologies into rural and minority education arenas. He stood in front of a class of high school students in this rural community and asked how many of them had a computer at home. Only about 70% raised their hands. Then he asked them how many of them had a broadband internet connection at home. Fewer hands went up – about 60% of the hands were raised. Then he asked how many of them had a MySpace page. 90% of the hands went up. Even without internet access at home or maybe even a computer, these kids were engaging in social media. (Thanks to Paul for the great story).
And now, so do lots of other people. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube–they are all social media (aka social networking) sites and with them we are seeing people connect in virtual communities for a plethora of reasons: business, non-profit, gaming, fundraising, or maybe connecting with people who have similar hobbies or interests but live all over the world. It may be used to enhance one’s romantic life. It may be used to host a virtual art exhibit. The reasons for connecting online are seemingly limitless – now that we’re getting some real tools to make that possible.
Still, many worry how this is going to affect the kids. I’ll refer to an old saying, “and a little child will lead them”, for surely most parents are being dragged into the world of social media because their kids use it–and every parent wants to safeguard their children from unknown dangers. So, parents learn to text, get MySpace pages, tweet and hey, even start using for themselves–maybe dumping MySpace in favor of Facebook and starting a blog.
Still, for those of us who haven’t grown up with it, there remains a dichotomy between REAL and VIRTUAL communities. We see them as separate worlds, even though they may have some of the same people in them. Here’s the culture changer: our kids DON’T see them as different. To them, these worlds are INTERCHANGEABLE. To them, they will live and breathe community. They won’t think twice about pinging their friend in London or South Africa about some project at work – they will have been doing such things ALL THEIR LIVES.
So, why will the world be a better place because of this culture shift? Because what we learn (or is modeled for us) as children – the values and drivers – stick with us and become part of our adult lives, our working lives and part of the lives and cultures of the companies we work for. With kids, this immersion in a social media mindset fosters good stuff for the future: community building, interaction, accountability, community standards, fair play, good citizenship and maybe even care and compassion for others in those communities. Many of the things parents today wish their kids would learn, but their REAL, physical communities are few or nonexistent – and if they do exist, are often bereft of real standards or lack community accountability. They don’t function like a vibrant, sustainable community functions and often don’t require active citizenship. Our children will reinvigorate those very REAL ideals–and oddly enough, it will happen through a virtual portal.