Social Media Forever and Ever, Amen

November 12, 2013
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There is no doubt that social media has fundamentally changed the way communities interact with each other.  Few would argue the profound impact, good or bad, that social has had on a global scale; be it the role of social media in Arab Spring to the countless photos of babies, cute and ugly that populate that blue backdrop of Facebook.  One paradox however in this fast moving internet conversation is that however easy it is to post something, the permanence of that message can come back to haunt a person like a court transcript.  Natasha Singer’s piece in the NY Times touches on the issue of social media as a conduit and potential obstacle to admittance into college.  As a parent, I’ve started to think in terms of the social footprint I’m leaving and am so relieved that I did not have a medium to voice my pubescent, hormonal discontent with all the perceived societal slights when I was a kid.  I also think about how important every photo and hand written letter is to my parent’s that link them to their forbearers.  My kids will not be lacking in source material for their parents.

We recently signed our seven year old up for his first e-mail account with zilladog.com.  I was hesitant to baptize him into the Internet community. However, he already plays with apps on my phone and games on Cartoonnetwork.com.  I thought reinforcing writing lessons on a keyboard and with a carefully monitored group of friends, all of whom need parental approval through the site to correspond, was more beneficial that having him vegetate in front of the games (and pop-up ads) that come with most on-line kids’ games.  This has me thinking about lessons I need to start teaching in regard to the power and permanence of language.  I wrestle between thoughts of raising our kids as Emersonians who learn how to entertain themselves in nature and appreciate the slow, unfolding beauty of the natural world versus the desire and obligation to ensure they are well equipped to participate in the age of technology and be competitive.  As in all things, I think balance is key.  What could you possibly have to say of interest on-line if you don’t divorce yourself long enough to engage in relationships, gain experience in face to face social interactions and utilize your senses to better understand the world in which you might commentate on Facebook?

In Singer’s blog she addresses social media as a tool that can be used to further define yourself.  In this case, she implies that an aspiring high school student on a UCLA admission waiting list may have successfully waged an aggressive Twitter campaign to help separate him from the others and gain admission.  Schools typically downplay social media as criteria for admittance but how could you deny yourself all of the puzzle pieces necessary to make an educated decision about admitting the right kind of students if you were on an admissions board?  Can and should social than be an ongoing marketing campaign to project a desired image of oneself for the sake of admission, be it corporate, educational or any other organization?  Sites like LinkedIn are for that expressed purpose but who draws the lines?  Is social any less authentic than a written essay or interview?  Either way, the more scrutiny we may come under, the more every word and image you’re associated with online can define you.