Conversations with today’s teenagers reveal what tomorrow’s relationship will be between social media and real life.
I know some people who talk about social media like it’s the devil. They have a grand narrative in their heads where life is getting less and less personal, people are becoming more and more slaves to their screens, and “kids these days” are constantly in danger of falling in manholes because they’re texting.
That’s not what Ryan Bradley, the writer of the above piece, sees. In fact, he witnesses (if only anecdotally) a backlash against that mindset. The teens he talks to see the curated social media profile as inauthentic. They see slavishness to a screen as a poor substitute for reality. "I mean, man, it’s like not real life. Not. Real. Life. Why would you be on there when there’s this?” one kid says, gesturing to his friends nearby.
This image should serve as a reminder to anybody who uses social media personally and especially professionally: it’s supposed to empower and improve real life, not compete with it — and certainly not replace it.
A note of caution, though: a high schooler has little need for Facebook, or anything designed to help him keep tabs on a bunch of friends he doesn’t see regularly because he sees his friends every day. Writing obituaries for social media because of high schoolers is like writing obituaries for reading because of two year-olds. Their need for it — and therefore their feelings toward it — will change as they get older and their abilities and circumstances change.
Social media was originally invented by kids much like these once they graduated, and realized that in the real world, finding friends (let alone seeing them regularly) isn’t done for you by The System. In the face of that reality, especially in the suburbs or unfamiliar urban environments, social media (at least the good stuff) becomes invaluable. And the social media best designed to facilitate real life in such environments will continue to evolve.
Brian Brown is the editor-in-chief of Humane Pursuits.
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