New Media. Who Uses What? Why? And How?

As the young panelists addressing our board meeting discussed how they use new media it became instantly apparent that generational differences in media usage are like chasms in the Arizona desert. Some in our group had never heard of Twitter. Others use it frequently. Some are on Facebook, others not.

On one hand, the panelists, including our own young adult board members, said they are moving away from Facebook because their elders had discovered it. They related how they use text messaging for personal contact and hinted that it is a way to avoid some of the discomfort of communicating face-to-face. And they emphasized how the technology is both as natural as breathing and also a background function enabling them to fulfill a real need for meaningful, authentic relationships. Technology shouldn’t get in the way of relationships and should be used to enhance them, they said.

One young woman indicated her primary community involved face-to-face contact and she uses text messaging and other tools to enhance personal interaction.

On the other hand, in a small group discussion later, a very perceptive young adult member of our board told the group she uses Facebook for more meaningful relationships with friends around the world, and these relationships contrast with her day-to-day casual relationships with people at work, in classes and elsewhere.

Her meaningful community–the people she goes to when she has important questions–are those with whom she’s shared important life experiences, and they live in Africa, Europe and across the U.S. They are her primary community.

Another member of the board from another generation has a similar community. Having been imprisoned by an authoritarian regime in the past, he has renewed his relationship with two men with whom he was held captive. They live in different countries and meet up on Facebook. No one can understand the meaning of their experience and its influence of their lives quite so authentically as the three, he said.

Social networking tools are replacing some qualities of face-to-face community while also enhancing face-to-face community. We are experiencing new forms of community and seeing the decline of old forms of community, perhaps even seeking, as one SMU professor said, the loss of skill to relate to each other face-to-face.

These tools make possible community in real time and on-demand, as intimate or as distant as you want it to be. They must be used carefully, with sophistication and concern for privacy. And young people need to consider how online images and comments might affect them in the future.

These tools can be abused and be terribly harmful, or utilized in a way that makes life more understandable and even compassionate.

More tomorrow.

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