I have been a member of Facebook for longer than I have been in New Zealand. I have had a wonderful, career-defining seven years in Aotearoa and continue to love it with as much passion as the day I arrived. It has been seven years of pedagogy, intense learning, and exploration. However, I have been part of Facebook, posting, sharing and connecting since 2006. It has become part of my everyday existence, checking my feed and catching up with friends all over the world. If anything, I feel more a citizen of Facebook, than I do any country I am from or have lived in.
Although I hold a UK passport, I’m not really part of the system anymore. Of course, I remain proud of where I come from, and happy to laugh when declaring myself a ‘Pom,’ but when you do not live the experiences, you never really feel part of them.
Likewise, I’ve only been in New Zealand for seven years. I do not hold a New Zealand passport, nor am I a full citizen of this country. I’m proud to be associated with New Zealand education and New Zealanders, a people who have embraced me into their culture and whānau, however, I am not really a Kiwi.
I feel very much as a citizen of the real world, but perhaps more importantly, a citizen of Social Media. So, if I don’t really ‘fit’ as a citizen of the United Kingdom or New Zealand, what am I left with? Seven years on Twitter and 10 on Facebook, connecting, collaborating and sharing with people from all over the world.
As I hit my mid-thirties, I remind myself that I am not a digital native- a wonderful noun, defined as:
- a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and so familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.
- “the digital tools that are reshaping our economy make more sense to young digital natives than to members of older generations”
I, like many of you, remember a time before the Internet, when email didn’t exist in the mainstream, and long before the days of Skype. I most certainly do not look back at those times with a rose tint. Technology has not only made my life easier, it has enabled me to connect with friends and family ‘back home’ effortlessly. However, this has been a process of growth and adoption, pushing boundaries, and learning from online mistakes. Throughout, Facebook has been a constant. Not native, but still, very much at home in a digital world.
There is certainly a distinct difference between being at home in a digital world and being digitally native. And so, I think of the students we work with every day. Those who have been on social media and using apps like Snapchat for as long as their memories can recall. In 2011, ABC News reported estimates of 7.5 million Facebook users under the age of 13-years-old, with almost 5 million under the age of 10. What’s more alarming is that these figures come from a survey of just 20 million users under the age of 21 in the United States. This equates to 37.5% of users on Facebook being underage. My point is that guiding the use of social media and the many associated challenges, does NOT just fall into the realm of secondary teachers, it’s everywhere.
We are operating in a world of digitally native students. Just recently, I watched a SoulPancake clip on Youtube. It opens with the following:
“Our generation is stuck in this unique position of trying to create ourselves. As if growing up and making sense of the world wasn’t enough, we have this second space where we are forging our identities. One where no generation before us has set the rules. I am as much a citizen of Snapchat as I am of New Zealand.” (Soulpancake 2016)
It is this mind frame we cannot ignore. The sense of belonging felt by the learners of today towards online communities is equal to, if not greater than, their sense of belonging to a country. Coupled with the global transience of people, many of the students we teach now simply do not have the same affinity to their country of birth, because they no longer live in it! Many teachers I have spoken with recently struggle to understand this. How can a student feel such pride in being part of an online community? But they do.
Social media is the norm
We are gradually moving into a time of communication and interaction via social media becoming the norm. A small town in Granada, Spain has dropped their traditional customer service in favour of interacting via social media.
“Around the world, governments and citizens are engaging on social media. For instance, the town government in Jun, Spain has famously ditched its traditional approach to municipal customer service and replaced it with Twitter interactions.” (Toscano 2016)
They are not alone. Post Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast United States, Twitter became an essential lifeline for those waiting for emergency announcements and information as to how to stay safe.
Whether it’s celebrities, TV show accounts, or popular online personalities, our students of today rely heavily on their interactions with social media. As they tackle the minefield of social development and interactions, they crave information to keep up with their peers. And so, it’s logical that they turn to social networking to achieve this.
Social media as a laxative for the brain
Surely, it, therefore, falls to us as educators to instill the same offline boundaries into the learners of today?
Quite recently, I heard Dane Baptiste (a British Comedian and writer) describe social media as a ‘laxative for the brain.’ For the first time, my social media and networking world stopped to reflect on what I’d just heard. With the recent US election overflow on Twitter, I realised very abruptly that he was right. Please do not misunderstand me. This didn’t mean for one moment that my love of online connections, collaboration, and sharing dwindled in any way. However, scrolling the rhetoric and diatribe from both sides of the electoral parties, it is easy to see why such a metaphor works. The ‘flamers’ were all too apparent. Their conviction and language use appeared to often be without forethought or reflection, and the conversations often spanned multiple time zones and countries. Digging in a little deeper, it immediately became obvious that much of the internet noise was not coming from 13 – 25-year-olds, but from those who could be judged to know better. Is this the message we want to send to learners and social medias of tomorrow? The evils and perils of online interaction will always exist; however, the Key Competencies must be extended to online interactions and behaviour. If we cannot manage ourselves and relate to others effectively, the hateful noise will simply never cease.
Finding the balance
Whether you see social media use as a problem or an incredible resource, there can be no denying that it is firmly entrenched in our society. Learners of today value their online interactions as highly as their offline conversations. Our role as teachers and educators has never been more crucial in helping them find the balance, behaviour, and beauty that exists in all their lives.
Soulpancake. 2016, Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZAkZ4TzSEA
Toscano, James. 2016, Retrieved from: http://theconversation.com/does-social-media-help-the-government-citizen-relationship-depends-who-you-ask-58481