Social media has permeated society to become an integral aspect of interaction between people. Barely an hour, let alone a day, can pass for some millennials without glancing at Twitter or scrolling through their Facebook feed. Many argue that this shift in favor of digital interaction diminishes in-person encounters and impacts social skills in general. A recent article in The Atlantic, written by a teacher, begs to differ.
The author of the piece, California teacher Andrew Simmons, claims that the prevalence of social media in the lives of his students have improved their writing as opposed to the more common argument that emojis and text-speak has decimated the generation’s knowledge of the English language. Simmons focuses not on grammar or style, however, but on his students’ ability to open up emotionally in their writing.
He argues that before social media became popular, students — and specifically, young male students — were influenced mainly by pop culture icons who projected a masculine image. That, coupled with general expectations of masculinity and strength fostered by society, encouraged these students to keep any vulnerable feelings to themselves. With the advent of social media, however, expressing oneself has become relatively commonplace. According to Simmons, this expression translated into academic writing assignments, and students today feel more comfortable writing about personal issues than those in the past.
I found this perspective particularly interesting, especially since millennials’ interactions via social media are generally thought to be negative. Rarely are the positives of social networking recognized in term of academics. Millennials aren’t necessarily losing in-person social skills, but instead developing new ones that are relevant to the digital age and perhaps phasing out irrelevant ones.
Online social networks don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, we should be constantly preparing for whatever new digital tool is on the horizon. Better to look at the positives and accept the evolution of communication rather than fighting an impossible war against it.
I definitely think the integration of social media into our lives needs more research than we currently have. Today the common reaction is just a nascent response from the older generations who are unable to see the role and value of social media in their daily, academic lives. Yet I’m sure if you asked them about the role of TV or radio for example, they’d more easily provide both pro and con responses about these mediums. Those who are most familiar with social media (e.g. you and I, and younger) are still young and have less a pulpit to wax about the usefulness of social media in human maturation in a scholarly way, so the most vocal voices we hear now are mostly those who don’t use social media as often as today’s kids do. I imagine this will slowly shift as today’s kids mature.
Definitely interesting to see a different perspective on social media. Although it may have, as this teacher argues, increased the male tendency to emotionally share, I think that it may not necessarily have increased their WRITING. While emotional accuracy definitely adds to writing, the real problem is that our generation (myself included) was never really forced to memorize grammar rules. As a result, many of us work at a base level lower than that of our ancestors at a comparable age. For example, if you ever look at any old essay by your parents or grandparents they really do tend to be at a higher level than ours are.
Students feeling empowered to voice their emotions is a benefit of social media, but Simmon’s lack of focus on grammar and spelling is unwise. What is the point of emotional writing if it can’t be understood? When those students need to apply for jobs or colleges, their ability to express themselves and navigate the rules of writing will be important. As a teacher this summer, many of my students would revert to the colloquial language of Facebook or Twitter when they were under pressure. Social media provides more work for teachers because they have to teach grammar and spelling while undoing the habits their students have formed by using social media.
This post brings an interesting perspective that I never considered. I can see how the widespread use of social media not only often includes or requires individuals to “bring in” their friends and followers into their lives, but also it encourages them to share things, including photos, videos, or simply words and feelings, that they would not share with others under normal circumstances. There is a sense of community on social media where individuals, for the most part, support each other through likes, comments, and sharing. This overall positive community encourages participation of everyone in the online community, and validates the words or events of individuals’ lives. Through these activities, I am sure many are encouraged to open up in the “real world” and therefore be more wiling and able to share through other medium.
However, when taking a broader look at things, there are more negatives to this story. The supportiveness of the online community can often be seen as superficial, and the amount of “sharing” that many individuals have reached can absolutely be seen as excessive. More importantly, the sense of professionalism and formalism has been completely abandoned in these informal sharing settings, which makes it more difficult for individuals to adapt to the formalities that are required in other settings, including in-person as well as in other written or verbal forms.
Great piece Chelsea. It reminds me of Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together (http://www.amazon.com/Alone-Together-Expect-Technology-Other/dp/0465031463). While I dont agree with her view point about new technology, her work is worth highlighting because she is often referenced as the “negative” public interpretation that you mention when discussing millenials interactions with new technology. She uses an example of a teen girl who needs instantanous validation from her peers during an emotional crisis to exemplify our generation’s lack of self reliance (or in this case self soothing) due to our heavy use of social networks. However, I think your explanation that, ” millennials aren’t necessarily losing in-person social skills, but instead developing new ones that are relevant to the digital age and perhaps phasing out irrelevant ones,” meets this criticism well.