The other day when I met a friend from my school, all we discussed was how well we were connected and how fast we were able to reach out to our friends when needed. And I am talking of the seventies here. Surprised? Well, you should be, considering the way technology has redefined communication.
With incredulity in your voice, you ask, ‘You say you were plugged-in?’
‘Sort of,’ I said with a twinkle in my eyes, ‘No, there weren’t any emails going back and forth, no text messages, and certainly no LOLs and ROFLs, if you know what I mean.’
‘Yeah!’ he said, ‘So how do you say you were as well connected as the school kids today are?’
‘Elementary,’ I said with a Watson-like sombre smile, ‘we had tied a thread from the window in the classroom below to the classroom above. On both ends was tied a sawed piece of a branch that was large enough not to pass from the metal railings on the windows. Every tug from one class sounded like a nice gentle thud in the other.’
I then explained to my friend that we had a code that told us which teacher was on his way up, or if the Principal was in an angry mood, or how difficult was the test, and so on. So we were not only connected but were using knowledge innovatively and were enjoying it.
The kids today are doing the same, although in a different way. They have their smartphones, their tabs, their ultrabooks as the devices… and they have messaging, emailing, tweeting, and facebooking as their vehicles to reach out. They have even their own codes and a language that may well appear to be insanely different from the one that we normally use.
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‘We now say that the new generation is perpetually plugged-in.’
‘Yes, and they are probably reluctant to remove their plugs even while walking on the streets,’ replied my wife as she slowly sipped water after returning from college.
‘I’m quite upbeat about this generation,’ I said with a lot of confidence, and then added, ‘these guys know technology inside-out. They can punch a message on their laptop with one hand while the other is busy clicking and sending a picture on their smartphone. All this as they gyrate to some form of music that has just as exotic names…’
‘And this can be quite disastrous,’ my wife was in no mood to listen to me praising the dextrous school kids, ‘they need to be careful with all this networking.’
‘I agree,’ I said with a wink, ‘they must realise that anything they write on Facebook, Twitter, email, and any other platform is going to remain there and may have some influence on their future selections and appointments. Colleges look at digital profiles, and so do organisations before they finally recruit you.’
We then went on to search what others had to say about the impact of social networking on school kids. Well, there were good as well as alarming things that we came across. A lot of experts, researches, websites, and opinion-leaders talked about one or more of these facets that is more real than reality today:
- Psychological disorders, including anti-social behaviours, mania and aggressive tendencies that were apparent in perpetual users of the media and technology
- A negative effect on the health of all children, preteens and teenagers by because of an influx of anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders could lead to health issues
- Disturbed attention spans
- Language and expression that suffers because of speed communication techniques as well as the possibility of copying without getting caught
‘Just look at all this,’ exclaimed my wife, ‘aren’t these serious enough?’
‘There is no problem that doesn’t come without a solution,’ I said calmly, ‘we just need to find the right way all this can be used. You cannot wish away evolved technology but you can certainly give it a direction.’
Well, the solution that we devised resembled this:
- Stop saying ‘stay away from your laptop’ or ‘Put that mobile away’… let the kids access all digital tools. After all, they need to explore the Internet for new and interesting information
- Wherever possible, give them lessons on critical thinking online. It is the same as asking them to write an analytical piece on a piece of paper… but the kids will be pleased to be doing it on a PC
- Always have open discussions of social networking sites — on the appropriateness, on the consequences, and the fact that information posted exists forever. It will be great if even adults get over their fear of the new technology and start having a virtual life on these networks too. Believe me, it is quite refreshing!
- Yes, it is vital to monitor a kid’s social networking pages once in a while and guide, if necessary
- Let the kids show you all the ‘cool’ things they are doing online. Your involvement will probably let them understand all this better… and you too might learn a few extra tricks!
As Nitish Kumar, a researcher has expressed in his article ‘Social Media and its Effects on Children’: “Online social networking also gives them a medium to express their thoughts freely without any restrictions. This helps them indirectly, they get to know themselves better and in turn they even learn how to answer various questions posed by others.” After all, we do want our kids to grow into self-thinking and responsible adults, don’t we? It is also about time that most adults actually got over their own fears and lack of an in-depth knowledge of the new media and adopted blogging and micro-blogging too. The kids will love seeing their parents express knowledgeably about local and global issues and concerns.
And before I exceed the word limit for this post, let me also say that the Government too has a responsible role to play here. No, they will not achieve anything by putting bans and dis-allowing technology from reaching out. They stand to gain if they fund the creation and evaluation of positive media initiatives. They can have public service campaigns to reduce risky behaviours. They are also in the best position to initiate and follow-up on studies that may explore innovative uses of social media.
That was our evening discussion over filter coffee, and my wife smiled as she said, ‘Now it makes a lot of sense. Help me create my own blog on WordPress, will you?’
Written on 11 July 2012