Pew Internet & American Life Project has recently carried out a survey on American youths (age between 12-17) in October-November 2006 focusing on their use of social networking sites and resources.
The principal outcome of the survey is indisputable: social networking is a colossal and real sociological observable fact among American teenagers. These are just some highlights of the statistics:
- 55% of all online American teenagers use online social networking sites;
- My Space is the most popular site with over 120 million personal profiles (including also famous rock bands and other semi-famous people) over the world, overtaking sites like Yahoo! and Google!;
- My Space covers almost 85% of the market, followed by Facebook 7% and Xanga 1%;
- For girls especially social networking sites are primarily places to reinforce pre-existing friendships;
- Girls are more accurate and precise in filling in their profile, providing all kind of required details;
- The most shared material is email, photo, audio, video and lots of music.
In the first place I wish to point out that the sample used for the survey consisted only of 935 people and that the interview was carried out by phone. Both things, though technically acceptable and pretty usual in this kind of researches, still make me wonder about the full adequacy of the inference of this sample’s results to the entire American younger population. Concomitantly I also admit that my remark might likely reveal itself pretty immaterial as it could only lower a little the clear results published.
What is instead remarkable and needs a more accurate attention is to consider besides the width of its diffusion the actual depth of the phenomenon. I mean for those who use it, regardless the number of users:
- how much this virtual meeting place is replacing – or it will in the future replace – the usual meeting spots such the bar, the library, the basketball court or the beach?
- How much is this affecting the lives and relationship of both popular and shy individuals that have existed and always will in any youths’ community?
- How do young people tendency to isolation when feeling misunderstood or unaccepted will be enhanced by these technologies?
- Will we also assist to virtual bullying and/or apartheid?
- Will this technology reduce, instead of improve, social inclusion?
I only fear that this virtual approach to socialisation will probably increase the natural gaps, fractions, frictions that are part of any group’s dynamics and usually magnified among youngsters, reducing what ought to be the natural human inclination to live socially (not virtually) and forgetting that the PC/Internet is a tool, just a tool nothing else but a tool.
Perhaps besides suggesting and spreading the Net Etiquette we should also try to start coaching users Net Moderation and Self discipline.
Guy Mc Paul
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