Social Networking Examined

Yesterday, the Pew Internet Project, a non-profit, non-partisan initiative of the Pew Research Center, issued a press release of their recent study (55% of online… / PDF version) about online youth in the United States and social networks.  The principal finding of that study revealed that 55% of online teens use social networks.  To some degree, this percentage, though high, seems to contridict society’s notions about teens and their online world.

“There is a widespread notion that every American teenager is using social networks, and that they’re plastering personal information over their profiles for anyone and everyone to read,” says Amanda Lenhart. “These findings add nuance to that story – not every teenager is using a social networking website, and of those that do, more than half of them have in some way restricted access to their profile.”(“55% of online teens”)

 
Hawaii
I guess if it was me, I’d rather be out in that field playing frisby or football — and I think my children would too.

Findings of the study indicate that 66% of social networking teens have their profiles blocked from view by anyone but their friends.  Now this news certainly does not mean that there is no longer reason for concern, that there is no longer a need to somehow help students learn to use social networks responsibly and safely, because many are not.  But it does seem that the sensational warnings of some new media and politicians have less basis in reality than they imply.

All that said, let’s look at this from the other direction.  55% of online teens use social networks.  According to the report 48% visit social networking sites at least once a day.  22% visit them several times a day.  Girls appear to spend more time engaged in these activities, especially older girls, and they use the sites to manage their existing friendships.

Is this important?  Is this something that we should be paying attention to, as educators in or efforts to educate?  I’ve been thinking about this for the last several hours and even discussed it with my very smart and focused wife — and activity that almost never simplifies things for me 😉

And I guess I want to build some context for this as an educator — and I guess I want to know what at least 55% my generation of youngsters did together.  I think about what I did as a youngster and I know that 55% of us didn’t play sports or go to the ball games.  55% of us didn’t date.  55% of us didn’t join clubs at school or regularly visit the library.  55% of us didn’t look at hot-rod magazines.

At least 55% of us did watch TV, listen to music, and go to school.  At some point 55% of us planned to go to college and graduate, though I suspect that it didn’t really happen.  My wife says that it is important that most of us had the run of our neighborhoods (where I lived, we had the run of the whole town), and we spent time with our friends figuring out how to play our neighborhoods and our towns.  My wife made the point that we could never grant our children the run of our very middle class and seemingly safe neighborhood.

The question I keep coming back to is what did 55% of pre-digital youngsters do that involved literacy?  What opportunities for teaching literacy are we wasting by walling out and ignoring social networking?

I asked my wife, “If students used social networking applications in school, within the context of productive endeavors to learn and to produce from their learning, and they developed productive habits from their time in school-based social networks, might that affect how they use social networks in their own time, using them more productively and more safely? “

What do you think?

55% of online teens use social networks and 55% have created online profiles; older girls predominate.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. 7 Jan 2007. Pew Research Center. 8 Jan 2007 <http://www.pewinternet.org/press_release.asp?r=134>.

Hawaii, “Browsing.” Hawaii’s Photostream. 27 Oct 2006. 8 Jan 2007 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/hawaii/280346368/>.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.