Mary K. Choi’s (@choitotheworld) 2016 account of how 4 teens in different parts of the United States use social media was quite the read. In it, she captures insights on how teens (I love the term ‘screenagers’, hinting at the amount of screen time) use social media.
The language teens use in the digital world is so complex and rich; much beyond LOL and BRB from my texting days. Did you know ⛽️means a nod of loyalty from ‘your gang’, or ‘your crew’ in a comment? Except it may not be that. An (2015) says it is a code for marijuana, and that ⛽️🍁means to smoke marijuana. Urban Dictionary agrees with both definitions.
Story time. I was walking out of campus one afternoon and noticed a student trying to forcefully enter campus after hours, the guards standing in front of his bike. There was an obvious language barrier at play, so I intervened to see how I could help.
The student had forgotten his cell phone in a classroom and wanted to go back on campus to collect it. Due to COVID-related restrictions, students are not allowed on campus after hours. Easy to see what the dispute was about.
Judging by his reaction, the thought of spending 14 hours without his cell phone was worse than death. I was able to retrieve the phone while he waited outside. I really wondered: what was so important that he needed his phone?
Choi (2016) suggests that teens create and navigate an unwritten set of rules, developed ‘as they go’. It is the #olds job to help navigate their growth into the future, instead of creating molds and expect them to fit into it.
These rules of social engagement, which are as fluid as the moods in a teenager (I should know!), establish a sense of ‘duty’ from which group dynamics are strengthened. My reflections from this week suggest there may be two separate explanations.
1 Like nurturing a garden, the high amount of screen time is a result of teenagers nurturing relationships that are an essential part of their identity – not their ‘online’ identity.
Rugnetta (2015) explores the idea, in a PBS Idea Channel video, that the internet culture has established an environment where online personas are an integral part of one’s identity. You know that recently-divorced cousin that is posting adventurous photos on Facebook but is, in reality, binging on You from a couch surrounded by pizza delivery boxes? That’s not what he means.
Unlike the duality assumed from the early days of the internet, where you are one thing in real life, and you can present another you online, Rugnetta argued that you are, literally, what you post.
As such, the experiences teenagers have online will help forge meaning and build their identity. Singular. Not their online identity.
2 The digital world is creating a dopamine-driven set of responses that gets in the way of nurturing relationships.
Simon Sinek is one of my recent heroes. I mean, look at this company vision!
In an interview about millennials, he addresses issues he believes are being created by the digital world. He sees the online and offline identities as separate and values the offline presence more in establishing long-lasting relationships. This, he argues, requires patience and perseverance, which the instant gratification of the digital world is unable to nurture.
So what? I think it’s important to acknowledge both sides of the issue. The analogy between social media and other forms of addiction is much more visible and much more negative. Technology standards like ISTE, on the other hand, seem to leverage the positive contributions that students can make to the (digital) world and the relationships that can be nurtured in the process. Perhaps a focus on the positive might address some of the issues brought up by Sinek.
The students I spoke to in preparation for this post would agree that social media, particularly, feels like a burden or a ‘job’ they must complete. That there is a pressure to be online — the infamous “if you’re not on XYZ, you don’t exist”.