By Khalid Mazhar Qureshi
A parent came to me, quite annoyed, saying “how can I stop my kids using facebook?” continuing “I have tried all but my kids just don’t stop using it. Everything is being affected: their education and real social life. They stay away from me into a world with which I am not fully aware”. This was indeed a tough question and I couldn’t answer it but it made me think about it. Is digital social media inherently that bad? Or is there any flaw in our approach?
A social experiment was performed in 2009 by DARPA dubbed as— A Network Challenge, in which they spread ten big red balloons all over the US. The task was to spot those balloons in teams in 15-days at a prize of $ 40,000. The task was virtually impossible to accomplish for a single person or less connected group. To their surprise the prize was taken away in 5 days by a team. This proves the power of social network.
If the same teams were living 20 yrs back would they be able to find balloons in a span of 15 days in third largest country? Unfathomably difficult! Digital Social media is a revolution of collaboration and information sharing—it empowers ordinary people. Let’s forget what happened in Egypt and Libya, consider the case of fourth graders in USA, who were very inspired about environment after reading “The Lorax” written by Dr. Seuss. When they heard that Hollywood is making a movie on the same story they went to the movie website excitement. Only after learning that the site is missing environmental themes, the fourth graders challenged the Universal Studio and set off their social network by filing a petition on Change.org to include environmental themes. They gathered 57,000 signatures and, in this way, fourth graders got their way against the Hollywood giant.
Despite having formidable strength, this media is severely looked down upon by parents and teachers alike. In many schools social networking sites are forbidden territories and discussing about them during school hours is a taboo. It is a big criticism on educationists that they were slow to adapt News Papers when they were first introduced then they were slow to embrace internet and now this fast and vast expanding internet social networking.
Already fistful of approximately one billion users, the digital media is still relentless and growing exponentially. It’s deemed as a main engine for global village. Social media is acting like a crucible where people of different race and cultural backgrounds are amalgamating and being unified as one digi-nation. Rapid social communication updates people about the latest information whether it is related to shopping, current affairs and education. They know more alternatives and exact price of a certain item. This helps users become smarter in their real life. So by not allowing children to use it openly, are we doing justice? Are we not furthering the gap between real life and the life under teachers and parents? And in this way, are we not making children more rebellious?
In October, 2010, Phoebe Prince, a high school student hung herself because of cyber bullying. In another accident, a Rutgers University freshman committed suicide because his friends dubbed his sex video and streamed it online. There may be several hidden cases around the world which will keep popping up in future. In social media bullying is a common phenomena and the statistics is quite shocking. A Consumer Reports survey conducted in the US in early 2011 reveals that
“One million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyber bullying on Facebook in the past year”
In a paper entitled, “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids,” Larry D. Rosen, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University, found that Teens who use Facebook more often show more narcissistic tendencies while young adults who have a strong Facebook presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviors, schizophrenia, mania, depression and aggressive tendencies. Facebook can be distracting and can negatively impact learning. Studies found that middle school, high school and college students who checked Facebook frequently achieved lower grades and had lowest retention of what they read.
The issues of morality also arise with the use of digital social media as Noam Chomsky once said in an interview, ““[I] think internet social network erodes normal human relations. It makes them more superficial, shallow, and evanescent.” According to Steven Strogatz, PhD, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, “The distinction between genuine friends and acquaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don’t really care about.” In a recent study out of USC, brain scans showed that volunteers needed at least four to six seconds to process stories of virtue or social pain in others. “It takes a certain amount of time to fully experience complex social emotions,” says the lead author, cognitive neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang. Heavy reliance on the rapid intake of certain information—especially in younger, developing minds—could have consequences on our morality. It could also be “a whole new source of unhappiness,” says Strogatz.
But the thing is social media is well into our lives. Current generation love social networking and want to use it and will use it no matter how smartly we try to stop them; they will always find a way to use it. It has become an irreversible process. If we analyze anti-social media research it is standing on one reason —“frequent use”, isn’t that “frequent use” of everything is bad. As old adage goes: ‘excess of everything is bad’, too much watching of TV induces sleep deprivation, too much study does not take you anywhere, too much drinking of water may harm your kidneys and etc. However, my caveat is that we should not accept any new popular thing on reflex action but this media has passed its time of caution. The only way to deal with it is to change our side and accept it. Think about it if parents, relatives and teachers are added in the social network profile of their children/students then it will minimize the chance of being used in a negative and obsessive way. Change of side argument is historically proven for positive results.
Our real world is very rough and cruel but we still send our children outside homes for study or for all sorts of thing. Some fall prey to malicious stuff and some not, those who don’t is because their parents and teachers inculcated values in them. We now need to inculcate our values in their digital lives, they need simple and honest advices like the one President Obama gave to 9th graders, “I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. And when you’re young, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff. ”