From blogs to vlogs, the online world has given youngsters a voice that most adults never had decades ago. Whether it’s a boon or bane, we’ll probably never succeed in judging how technology has changed how we all live. In the early ‘90s, I distinctly remember sending my emails using UNIX codes in the university library, and looking at plain black screens with green cursors.
Living with teens though has made me keen of the need to relate with their interests and digital behaviors. And how surprised I have been at what keeps them online these days! Skyping and video-conferencing for a school project is something common now, an idea I wouldn’t have imagined ages ago. Facebook, which most grown-ups log on to so they can catch-up with friends and greet them on birthdays and anniversaries isn’t just used this way by teens. Most kids think Facebook is a necessity for posting homework and school announcements conveniently.
Kids probably also think it most archaic that we seem to rely so much on newspapers and newscasts to learn about what’s going on. For so long, we were quite content with reading Yahoo features and news. But now, logged online 24/7 on their mobile phones, most teens stay in tune with world news on Reddit. Reddit is an online social news site with postings from a social community from all corners of the world.
Then, there’s Twitter—an online social networking and microblog that lets users send and read “tweets.” With a text-savvy society like ours, Twitter has proven to be an expedient site for ranting or raving about almost anything. Twitter also works like a fans club online, where followers find out what their favorite personalities are up to. No wonder the Kardashians are so famous! Even then, Twitter has also become a medium for almost any bit of information, including traffic updates and fashion trends.
Just as kids and even adults got hooked on Twitter, then came the idea of hashtags. For a long time, I couldn’t even figure out what a hashtag was and didn’t even know which key it was on the keyboard. Apparently, when you pull a topic from Twitter, everyone’s hashtag on a similar topic will all be retrieved.
Youngsters are also often drawn to the images and photos posted online, such as Instagram and Flickr. Instagram, a social photo-sharing site, gives your friends and followers a glimpse of your life through your own camera lens. Besides Instagram, there’s 9Gag, a photo-sharing site for people to post hilarious pictures of almost anything. Scanning through 9Gag will make you realize that absurdity has just been redefined. Beyond photos, even aspiring writers can publish written work online through Wattpad.
Unfortunately, with so much open access to these online social sites, some postings do contain sensitive material and some pretense has been abundant in social networking sites. Catfish is a new word for the act of pretending to be someone else online. I caught the show of the same name once on MTV and turned curious what it was all about. Alas, I felt sorry for a young lady who had high hopes of meeting Mr. Right she met online. In the show, she’s flown in to finally meet her online love interest in person, but soon learns that her Mr. Right isn’t even a mister at all, but an introvert young girl who pretended to fall for her.
Technology and social online communities have given young kids a multitude of venues for self-expression. Even socio-political protest has been given a new means of expression through social media. Whether good or bad, these online communities are here to stay. And, I should say that playing catch-up with my teens these days as they navigate online social sites may be a new parenting hazard. But, ultimately, I guess figuring out the ins-and-outs of the online realm with them is better than not knowing at all.