SOCIAL NETWORKING. A TOOL THAT IS DOUBLE EDGED.

A FORCE FOR GOOD AND EVIL

One of the things that remains with me over the years and causes me great embarrassment to myself, because though all others will have long since forgotten what I said at the time,I will never do so and with hindsight realise that it is always best not to pontificate on things that are an unknown to yourself.

At the time, I ran, as one of my tasks at work, a Communication service for those who followed our fortunes. This involved using the telephone as a virtual Radio Station and providing news of happenings and events,and interviews with personnel of great interest to our followers. The followers rang a dedicated number and paid for the service by the minute. Each day the session lasted between 5 and 10 minutes and provided interest to the followers and income to the company. In fact, the Annual sum was equal to, or above my annual salary, so I often said that I was only gainfully employed for around 15 minutes each day and the rest of my labours were effectively given on a voluntary basis. In the early 1990"s the arrival of computers to our offices was seen as merely the opportunity to get rid of typewriters and I recall it was only with a struggle and physical removal of the typewriters that our Chairman established computerisation on some scale . Sometime later, a Sponsorship with a Computer Manufacturer saw every office, including mine given then state of the art machines. Luddite that I am, it was a place of rest on my desk for one such unit and indeed it was not until after the Millenium that I was dragged kicking and screaming into the brave new world.

That is by the by, but explains why when told of a new method of communication between groups and individuals, I uttered the foolish words I remember to this day. "Internet. Internet" I can hear myself exclaiming, "It is just a way for nerds to talk to eachother but not for ordinary people!" In the crassness stakes that has to be a pretty high rating. Of course, in some sort of defence at the time I was not far away from the truth but now in 2012, even my Grandchildren would think me totally devoid of vision for so thinking.

Even so, I think only the most dedicated computer orientated persons in those days could have anticipated the way the computerised Internet would change the way in which we now live, only some 20 years or so from those days. However, once the genie leaves the bottle, it brings with it forces that can be used for both good and bad. The Internet is no exception. My older son has developed since 2007, a Sports Retail Business based exclusively almost on the Internet. From a small town in Derbyshire, they now distribute goods not only throughout the UK but also round Europe and the rest of the world in practically equal percentages. This is 365 days a year, for even on Christmas Day, people are at their screens purchasing on a day when traditional retail outlets are firmly closed.

The development of e-mail and the wonder of Skype has made reality of communications that existed only in Science Fiction in my younger days. Perhaps even greater than that is the fact that I, and a whole generation of what are now termed "Silver Surfers" have both the confidence and competence to use them on a daily basis. Truly a wonderful advance in many ways, but as ever, there is a downside.

Social Networking sites as they are called, have revolutionised communications still further. A stage on from cell phone texting which in itself is a force for good and bad these sites attract million on million of people, by the hour, day, week month and year. There seems no limit to this ever expanding Colossus and by the nature of the Human Race, therein lies the sting.

GENDER ISSUES,

THE INTERNET MAKES NO DISTINCTION OF RACE, COLOUR, CREED OR GENDER AND THUS THE USER IS FREE TO USE VIRTUALLY AS AND WHEN THEY WISH TO CIRCULATE WHAT THEY WISH TO ANYONE WHO WISHES TO TAKE THE TIME AND TROUBLE TO LOG IN TO IT.

As a general principle that is fine, as we all believe in free speech, indeed am I not exercising that very right here? However, human nature being what it is, it is inevitable that some uses will not be benign. It is not intended here to focus on mal commercial exploitation, though there are many examples of that. My concern here is related to social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter which draw astonishing numbers to their pages. Obviously there are many other similar or related sites that are used but to the mainstream, these are key. Indeed much good do they do and I believe all of us benefit at times from their existence. Yet as always there is a downside.

UK research now suggests that these sites are a source of problems in particular for young girls.Girls, as any Schoolteacher will tell you can be extremely heartless and bullying to each other if allowed to go unchecked. The advance of social networking has provided some with a sharpened tool that they lose no time to wield. A recent concern from the Head of a leading Girls Public School has focussed this problem clearly.

Dr Helen Wright believes, from her studies and observations, even amongst more privileged girls, that a spirit of "meanness" is fostered and developed by this form of communication amongst young girls. The reason for this is the comfort and confidence that is given to girls making them more likely to "defriend" rather than "befriend". In general Dr Wright notes a tendency escalating to "bitchiness, meanness, cruelty and criticising". These are not new in girls but the use of the social sites makes it easier to be so, rather than in face to face communication. Additionally, she also focuses on how high profile "ROLE MODELS" often use the same tactics to vent their spleen on their equally high profile friends, As ever, but in increased profile and numbers, young girls, notes Dr Wright, girls are growing up in a way that distorts fantasy from reality. At the same time, they now see infantile cruelties that existed in the playground and were subsequently left there as maturity beckoned, are now following on into Adult life. As ever, if children see adults behaving badly they swiftly copy it believing it to be acceptable so to do.

Of course, it is not only girls who are affected this way though they are more likely than boys to be so. Either way it seems that the big downside of our new instant communication is developing not only a lack of self respect but importantly also, a lack of respect for others.As indicated in my last Hub, a generation of very poor parenting, has created great and costly problems which seem certain to only increase. It should be recorded that text messaging, Internet communications etc have made the task of parenting, which has never been easy, harder than ever before. My sympathies with those parents trying to do a good job and finding it all too easy for their offspring to hide what they are getting up to far more easily than when I was bringing up my sons. They now have 4 girls between them ,two in their teens and one shortly to join those ranks. I know they will use all their efforts to keep their girls properly focussed and in the main will succeed. Consider however the vast ranks of other parents who have already given up, or never even bothered to nurture their offspring on decent lines. It will be no surprise to them if Dr Wrights observations fit their children. The equally sad fact is that most of them will not care.

A PROBLEM FOR THESE TIMES.

Originally I called this section, "A problem for OUR times" but realised that for the older members of society there is little or nothing we can do. The solution to this problem if there is one to be found lies with those around 20 / 40 years of age . Older people can only observe from the sidelines. Use the social media yourself and you will likely find yourself "defriended". As Dr Wright says it is easier to use the media than to express things face to face Even cowardly girls become braver at the keyboard, little realising that they cannot conduct their whole lives there. Maybe some will develop maturity and realise that there lies a tool to be used but wisely, and certainly not for the tool to present a face to the world of a flawed individual.

Parents who are grappling with the problems of teens and especially girls can do worse than check out Dr Wright"s Handbook entitled "Decoding Your 21st Century Teen" No single work or opinion can give specific directions to follow as all Humans differ in their make up but it does seem that modern parents in many many cases need all the help they can get, and often whether they like it or not, if we are to arrest what is perceived as an ever increasing downward spiral in standards that if unchecked will ultimately erode the very foundations of a decent society. All is far from lost but that is no excuse for not taking clear and positive action.

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