Social technology’s transparency among teens

It’s no surprise that many of today’s youths exercise a their social skills through social media technologies. They’ve got a kind of socio-technical competence that would make many of us look like complete hacks. That’s interesting to me. What happens to a person’s competence in face to face interactions if she or he spends a great deal of time in mediated interactions? If, as a recent study claims, these technologies are truly transparent (a software designer’s dream!), is their absence in face to face encounters noticeable? Are teens more likely to be shy in real life?

It’s much easier to control one’s own face if it’s not in front of somebody else. We can hide behind our emotions if there’s a screen to represent them instead. Flirtatious gestures, suggestive comments, messages, emoticons, jokes, and so on present the personal with the technical help of what amounts to a technical communication system. Codes, idioms, genres, forms of writing, posting, commenting and so on remove affect and flatten out differences, rendering communication somewhat less communicative…

It would be interesting to know if a new generation is becoming more shy in face to face situations.

And this is truly just hypothesizing out loud.. Is it possible that if the demands of getting through face to face encounters with successs, being and feeling liked and recognized while making others comfortable during some shared facetime — without recourse to the screen and the imaginary sense of remote control that it can bestow upon its users — is it possible that a reliance on technical mediation of the social could produce real symptoms?

Just as parents shrink at the communicative risks and unknowns, the faux pas that might lurk behind every dialog box and mouseclick… Would a dependence on the props of social media be seen and heard in conversation malaprops and stagefright?

If so, what a sad thing it would be. We get to know each other best in person.

Excerpts from The virtual generation by Jo Chandler, August 14, 2007

“As a new global survey of 18,000 youths commissioned by MTV and MSN has found, while today’s youth are engrossed in a constant conversation, almost 40 per cent do not even notice the technology that enables it. This is despite a similar number saying that checking their mobiles is the first and last task of every day; two-thirds of them saying that checking who is online is their first priority whenever they boot up; and all of them using email or instant messaging every time they log in. They have skills that would have classified them as computer nerds a decade ago, but they don’t regard themselves as technophiles. This is just their country.”
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“For girls, it is mostly about the social networks, with the music and tricks an add-on. For the boys it is the opposite. They enjoy the process of creating and sharing music and imagery and jokes – hence their love of YouTube; playing virtual games and invisible wars; breaking codes and deciphering clues to allow them to better understand and manipulate the technology.”

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“AS TEENAGERS’ virtual networks expand, their real worlds contract. “We put more and more money into pastoral care, into communicating with each other, but when it comes to communicating face to face, we are poorer than we have ever been,” says Shelford principal Pam Chessell.

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She says the task of 15-year-olds is to begin to find and define themselves. But “teenagers are so immersed in their fabricated virtual identities that these become real to them”.”

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“They get bored so quickly. They need this gadgetry. They need to keep the balance of books and technology.”

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