Sunday, 14 January 2007

On Net moderation and Self discipline

Sunday Editorial

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.

But what is technically a social networking site? It is an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him/her to other users, these being people he/she already knows, as well as new acquaintances met and added online. Now apparently over two thirds of the profile owners use My Space and similar to share information with persons/friends already part of their entourage. So the most diffused inclination of these social networking users is to form a steady group and stay within the group, making profiles accessible only to known people and friends. This is pretty good for safety reasons, since quite all the interviewed were aware of the risks related of unwanted meetings online. Social networks can be ultimately considered stable virtual meeting places where friends get together online. Naturally for older boys (29%), the networks also – if not exclusively - provide opportunities for flirting and making new female friends. Well so far nothing wrong or new…

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?
Well the scenario is not completely clear to me – especially its borders; nevertheless it would silly and surely vain trying to fight against the stream. This phenomenon has gained in this last year gigantic proportions and it is even doomed to augment!
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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