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Social Media: The Media We Love to Hate

Posted May 22 2010 7:54pm
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Published Previously on Psychology Today “Positively Media”

What is the media we love to hate? Right now, it’s social media. As a society, we hate pretty much anything new or that we don’t understand. I’m sure the mass media execs and video game developers are beside themselves with glee to see so much attention on reports of social media addiction and controversy surrounding Facebook’s privacy issues. Yesterday’s devil-child is eager to jump on the bandwagon and skewer the next guy.

Social Media is an easy target. Not only is it new, it’s acceptance varies widely by age.  The enthusiastic adoption of social media technologies and tools by young people worries older people who don’t really get it. The digital immigrants are not willing to trust the judgment of digital natives; just like most generational belief schisms. You can just hear the collective digital immigrant response: “That isn’t the way I did it.” That point of view leaves only two alternatives: There’s either something wrong with the people who are doing something differently or there’s something wrong with our own worldview. Surely it can’t be that!

When people process information that challenges their view of the world, many lose the ability to think critically. They seek cognitive consonance and comfort. When things fit with their beliefs, they jump right on board.  Some recent studies have received media coverage that highlights how social media is addicting. (I will discuss some of this coverage in my next post.)  When you read stuff like that, do you find the studies in question and read them or are do you say to yourself,  “See, I KNEW all this media stuff kids do is bad for them.” Just like dime novels, comic books, short skirts, Elvis Presley and Rock and Roll. The rap on Socrates was that he was corrupting youth, too. It’s a wonder any of us survived!

New media is not a crisis. It is a fact of life. Get used to it. Don’t make the mistake of the Bergen County, New Jersey middle school principal who must have destroyed a great deal of his social capital with his middle school population when he emailed the entire parent body saying: “There is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!”

I urge all of you parents and caring adults out there to learn about new technologies so that you can make judgments that are contextually relevant and so that you can provide guidelines that make sense to kids in THEIR world, not yours.  That is, in fact, where they have to live.  In their world, if you don’t know how to use technology you are at a severe disadvantage–and not just socially.  The 21st century skills that our kids will need include technological and media literacy and I mean that in the broadest sense.  Media literacy today is not just the ability to think critically about content.  It is the ability to think critically about use and production in a networked society.

But the real issue is that kids use technology differently than their parents do. First of all, kids can still see the screen and keys on their mobile devices without their glasses so it’s easier for them. They also think about the whole process of connection and communication differently. They aren’t thinking of Facebook or texting as a replacement for some other means of communication. They aren’t angsting over the qualitative differences between voice, face to face, or text. It is just how they communicate. They didn’t have to unlearn some other behavior to learn this one. And keep in mind that just about the time you adjust to Facebook, they’ll be off and running on the next thing. They aren’t in this for the tools. They’re in it for the social connection.

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