30 March 2011

Social Media Frenzy

It was on the news this morning and in my emails from the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). Facebook is changing the world, but it is also opening a doorway to depression for some teens. As someone who resisted social media until my husband signed me up for Facebook and (years later) for Twitter, I am amazed at how quickly participation in these online forums has changed my perception of friendships and closeness.

On the one hand, I have been lucky enough to reconnect with certain middle school and high school friends who had babies around the same time I was expecting Emma. It may be only a form of glorified stalking, but it has given me no end of joy and of comfort to watch Tara and Dahlia grow bigger (in their online photos) and to occasionally let their moms know just how pretty I think both girls are. Doing so is a reminder to me that no matter how many times I've moved over the years or how many different groups of friends I've had to move in between, I still have some connection to the girl I once was.

On the other hand, the contact I have with Tara's and Dahlia's mothers is limited and intermittent. Still, I know that it is better than nothing. I know this because there were years we did not speak at all. There were years, in the pre-Facebook era, when our paths intersected rarely if ever. For teenagers today, who know no world but the one in which MySpace and Facebook and Twitter are ever present and pervasive, there is no such perspective. Social media is not an amusing appendage. It is an imperative.

In the ER I saw a fourteen year-old boy with carpal tunnel. "But I don't type much," he protested. I countered, "Do you text?"

I saw a sixteen year-old girl who had broken her ankle. "I can't get a signal in here," she complained, waving her cell phone. "I need to let everyone know I'm okay." More upset about being cut off from her friends than by the break at the base of her tibia, I reassured the girl she would be splinted and ready to go soon. "No, now," she whined, eerily echoing Veruca Salt. I looked at her mother, who shrugged, so I walked away.

What makes me worry is that teenagers have a hard enough time being nice to each other face to face. Online, where the shame of seeing the hurt you have caused another is attenuated to the point where it is practically nonexistent, I can only imagine that they are brutal.

Even adults, with the cloak of anonymity the internet can provide, are quickly reduced to behaving atrociously. On a blog hosted by another physician, one particular topic got the readership particularly incensed. The comments section was filled with expletives and hideous, hurtful statements. Had the physician been witness to such language in person, no doubt he or she would have felt compelled to intervene (in a professional capacity if not simply as a human being). But online, despite being more permanent in many ways than the spoken word, the conversation was condoned.

If adults are behaving this way, what horrid things must our offspring be doing while we ourselves sit at our laptops or tap away at our smart phones? We will never know unless we ask.

1 comment:

  1. I heard a discussion on NPR, or perhaps the Freakonomics podcast, about social media. They were discussing the oft cited anecdote that facebook is diminishing the quality of our friendships. The discussion I listened to argued that this anecdote appears to be untrue. We still maintain the same valuable, real-life friendships; we happen to have an additional layer of friends that aren't really friends in the traditional way.

    Before facebook, there was no way for me to keep track of the guy I met at a friend's wedding or at a party or went to grade school with -- those memories would eventually fade and I would forget about them. Now, we can become "friends" on FB and be semi-regularly reminded of each other's presence. Which is nice -- sometimes.

    Which comes around to your discussion of teens today: how do they deal with this new way of labeling friendship. They may never know what it is like to lose touch with an old friend. Maybe that is a good thing. Or maybe they will put way too much weight on what their "friends" think of them and become distressed when someone they hardly know appears to dislike them.

    It is certainly a brave new world...we can't even imagine what teens 10 years will experience.