is social media really an “us” vs. “them”?

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for some time but hadn’t found my courage voice for it. It was born from a comment of a student evaluation from a fall course that stated that not only were my “clothes inappropriate” but I also “had Facebook”. The comment on my wardrobe is completely off (my outfits are always professional and tasteful) but then again the idea of fashion has always been a generational thing … has technology now become the next great generational divide?

Of late, there has been a resurgence of talk about parents on Facebook and MySpace and what kind of parents has his/her own account. Over the weekend, at a BBQ in the rain, this became part of what started as a small exchange between 3 moms (myself included) to a group conversation with many parents. In a previous post on texting, the generation gap is obvious…new technologies sometimes elude people who are not interested in learning (isn’t that always the case though?). So one of the first questions that arose was “How old do you have to be to have a Facebook account?”. One of the mom’s replied “under 40”. The parents all laughed and said “that counts us out”.  Of course, it is an easy out…we don’t fit the age criterion so we are safe. Then a friend turned to me and said “Wait, you’re not 40. Do you have one?” And that started an engaging conversation about technology, media literacy vs. literacy, and what all this means.

As I have mentioned in the past, each exploration of new applications, platforms, networks, etc. was purely academic in nature. Unfortunately, it has become much more than work. I have become a partisan of social media for many reasons: it is informative, educational, entertaining, enlightening and allows me to meet not just my neighbours, colleagues, and friends but expand my geographical limitations by allowing me to converse and “friend” people from the far corners of the earth.

In my humble opinion, the idea that certain sites become “theirs” (students, teens, kids) and others “ours” (educators, adults, parents) is speculative. There are too many social dichotomies that become reinforced (and perhaps validated?) when we fall into the trap of dividing technological culture according to our biases, fears and misunderstandings. This mutual exclusivity of sites and apps for certain age groups demonstrates an unwillingness of users to see beyond their own nose. Perhaps this is one key difference between “us” and “them”… are we adults more “global” in our use of technology? Are they more “solipsistic”? lol! I fell into the trap, didn’t I?

These sites can provide different services and serve different needs for a multitude of users and I think it is up to each user to accept and open her/his mind to the unending possibilities that things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Plurk, etc. can provide without wanting exclusive rights to it.

Is this just another phase in the evolution of generational gaps or is it something more? What do you think?

4 pensieri riguardo “is social media really an “us” vs. “them”?

  1. This is actually a very interesting question. But I don’t think this is an age thing. Every semester I mention Twitter in my CMPT 109 class and meet a sea of blank stares. They are completely uninterested.

    Ever since Twitter came out, I have been trying to get my brother (4 years younger) and my cousin (2 years older) into it. I send them invitations every once in a while and mention it often, but they just don’t seem to be interested at all. They are more into Facebook and/or Myspace and that’s where they have their “communities”. In fact, my cousin only joined Facebook last year or so – after it was open to general public for a while and built critical mass of contacts.

    Here is an interesting case study – a Polish Facebook clone nasza-klasa.pl is extremely popular amongst the 40+ crowd for some reason. Several of my family members (aunts, uncles, etc..) were on that network long before I joined it, and those who were not, were talking about it. That network seems to have built a critical mass of members in that age group and suddenly became very attractive to them – allowing older people rekindle old high-school friendships, find former co-workers and etc. They are not using it to keep track of their kids, but rather to build their own social networks, share pictures and etc.

    Why parents you talked about don’t care about Myspace? I guess they don’t see it’s value – they view it primarily as something that kids do. And joining a service overrun by horny teenagers is probably not something that really appeals to them.

    Just as Twitter which is mostly populated by technology enthusiasts, geeks, bloggers and various online personalities sharing byte sized chunks of information in real time does not appeal to “normal” people like my students, or my family. Perhaps not until it reaches a critical mass of some sort.

    You see, no one is going to listen to me and join the social service I like. I’m a geek and I get excited about all kinds of online stuff that is absolutely irrelevant to most people. So they tune out my ravings about Twitter just as they tune me out when I talk about Linux, open source, ruby on rails or web standards. If I like it, it must be some cryptic geeky stuff.

    However if they find about it from their friends or coworkers, they will be much more receptive.😛

  2. Thank you EPORIA for your insight. Limiting online relationships seems to contradict the concept of social media and networking.

    Ah, LUKE, perhaps you are too young to not see it as an age thing. Some of the interesting comments about Plurk, since you mentioned it, is that it is “twitter for teens”. Just like everything in society, Web 2.0 does create prejudices and stereotypes according to age. It doesn’t outrightly promote ageism, but contributes to it because of its users (or lack of users, as in my friends).

    I do strongly agree with you that you can bring a horse to water but can’t make it drink. Only 1 student from my twitter experiment still tweets in Italian now that the semester is over. The other 19, not at all. Also, my friends think my research is “interesting” but very few of them have actually created an account or even read my blog (hmmm….maybe I should drop them😉 )

    There have been many posts recently about how these social sites are self-perpetuating (used by technology enthusiasts, touted by them as the second coming) and then remain trapped by not making it into the common market. The question always becomes, well, then, how effective are these tools if the user pool is so limited? And of course, how many different renditions of the same product can we actually have until they are all deemed useless?

    People tune you out? I can’t believe that…not you! Welcome to the club, I guess. Yes, the power of our peers very often exceeds the power of those in the know. Btw, who/what got you on twitter?

  3. Btw, who/what got you on twitter?

    I think the one word answer is hype. One day I woke up, pulled up Google Reader and saw that almost every single tech related blog I subscribe to was going on about twitter. So I signed up.🙂

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