Social Media Through MY Ages

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We live in an age of constant updates, reposts, comments and likes. Who we are as an individual is greatly defined by the person we present ourselves to be on our social media sites– mainly because the majority of our ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ are (barely) acquaintances whom we might have met once at summer camp back in 1998. However, oddly enough, this doesn’t stop us from wanting to know exactly what they are doing, with whom, and how. Through the years, I feel we use social media different. Not just because one year we enjoy posting 140 character statuses and the next we can’t get enough of putting vintage-y filters on pictures of our pets. As we change and grow, the way we use and even interpret social media changes with us. But alas, this is far from a scientific discovery. Instead, I shall dazzle you with my own personal experience: Social Media Through My Ages.

Background for this– I was born in 1989. Graduated high school in 2007. College in 2011. Do the math, figure it out. Where in the world was social media at each point in time?

2003: MySpace made us realize that we could only have a certain number of “top” best friends. Like middle school needed more drama.

2006: Facebook stopped being an Ivy League gossip column and became accessible to everyone 13 and up.

2010: Welcome to Twitter, where brevity is the soul of wit.

2011: Time Magazine calls Pinterest a “top” website. Pin that where the sun don’t shine, Martha Stewart!

2012: Instagram hits over 100 million, because sometimes words are hard.

(Oh, and WordPress: 2003. Thanks for the outlet, guys!)

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Don’t pretend like you didn’t love these too!

Young’un Social Meda: The only way to describe this Age is: Foolishness. Myspace taught me so much about myself– mainly in the form of answering really deep information for my profile like who my favorite boy band was that week or the number of letters in my crush’s first and last name. Soon sparkly doll pictures could be added and at that point I absolutely knew I needed my own computer (Kids, back in my day, a “first computer” meant a 50lb clunker that took up at last 35% of my total tiny room space. I think I even had to move my blow-up blue sparkly chair out to make space!). Hours were spent changing backgrounds or, more importantly, finding the “cool” websites for those “cool” backgrounds (and glittery pictures, did I mention those?). On the plus side, my extensive use of MySpace supplied with my limited knowledge of HTML. If you wanted to make your profile REALLY cool, you needed to know all the secrets. So in-between IM-ing with friends, thinking up some pretty sweet Away Message (most of mine were quotes, like Mark Twain quotes, and I remember thinking that I was pretty darn cool for that), and updating my MySpace page, I slowly realized I had less and less time to interact with my friends face-to-face. Oh well, maybe we can have a sleepover tomorrow night and check out our MySpace pages as we doodle with gel pens and watch the latest episode of Lizzie McGuire. Sigh, nostalgia.

Early College Social Media: Surprisingly, little changed in our intents and purposes, but the format became much more sophisticated (by which I mean no more glittery pictures…well, for a of couple years). When we were younger, posts were all about trying to outdo and impress. I remember going away to college and feeling the intense need to prove that I was “having a great time” and had made all these fantastic new friend. Truth? While I did make great friends, my first year was plagued by homesickness and anxiety. Not that my social media pals would ever have known. Nor would I have known any fear or sadness taking place in their lives. Everything was dorm rooms, parties, new friends, awesome campuses, and “oh man, so much work!” Maybe our close friends knew how we really felt, but the 500 other people you graduated high school with were under the belief that everyone but themselves was living the best life ever. Of course, it also just occurs to me that maybe I’m alone here and everyone else really WAS living the BEST life ever their freshman year of college…

Current Social Media: At this point in my life, I find that my use of social media is primarily used for its originally intended purpose: keeping in touch with people who are in all different places. Well, that and a healthy dose of “stalking” those I might not know quite as well. We grow older and our friendship groups expand and disperse. There are the people we grew up with, the people we went to high school with, the people we went to college with, the people we used to work with, and then the people who are currently still in our lives, but– all factors considered–may soon also become former friends/schoolmates/coworkers, like the rest. Then, there is the element of contrast and compare. Face it, we look at other people’s lives and we, not so much envy them, but observe them in a selfish sort of way. Maybe we think: well, that would be nice. And in other situations we smile and think: good thing I didn’t end up like that. Whether it’s for daydreaming, self-affirmation or just to see what other paths people have traveled, something about social media keeps us company and support as we continue down our own path.

My Parent’s Social Media: And then there are the group that I will call “my parents,” though that’s technically not correct since none of my parents really partake in social media. For the most part, the baby-boomers whose social media presence I’ve studied are usually the parents of friends or even older coworkers. These “parents” are of a generation where they are just old enough to not have had it for most of their lives, but just young enough to learn the basics. The majority of their use is for reposting: recipes, chain posts, and the more than occasional “let’s see how many likes we can get for [insert often silly, probably fake reason/noun here].” Of course, it’s also used to keep in contact with friends. Many reconnect with former schoolmates or workmates. These are even more intersting reunions because rather than having become “facebook friends” while still knowing each others, these two will have been separated for decade before reconnecting. And, let’s face it, the kid who lived next door to your mom when they were growing up, is not that same person at 18 as they are at 58. There are whole lives to be caught up on. Oh, and of course there is the main reason why many “parents” have signed up for social network sites, though they’ll never admit to it and have since caught the social media bug themselves: They’re spying on their children. I mean, how else are you going to know what’s going through the mind of your 18 year old son. He’s not going to share with you directly but he will, oddly enough, share with 600 of his closest friends. No shame, parents. No shame.

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Oh, and these gems. Parents love these gems.

Years have passed, websites have developed, and vehicles of communication have multiplied (oh, have they multiplied!). The only constant in this crazy world is that things will continue to change: social media channels, technology, and our lives. And we will continue to come up with new and exciting ways to find out what a person we met once back in 2003 (you know, a cousin of a friend’s friend or the like) is up to now. And that’s okay. For whatever purposes we use social media, it will be there for us.

Kids Connect on Social Networks

Over school breaks I work in childcare at my local YMCA. I love the kids and their endless imaginations, especially when they’re younger and mostly unhindered by the fads of technology. The older kids (and by this I mean 8 to 12ish)  have a tendency of bringing in their Gameboys and Cell Phones. They want to show off, especially the ones with phones (why on earth an 8-year-old needs a cell phone is beyond me, and I will not get into that discussion right now). Growing up primarily in the 90s, my older brother and I coveted our video games, but there’s no doubt that as the years pass, the craze of technology is targeting younger and younger audiences.

Because of what I’ve seen, I really shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that there are social networking sites for children (13 and under)…but I was.

I first heard about this phenomenon when I read a headline that I thought indicated that Disney was starting a social networking site for children. Well, this was too much for me, and I couldn’t help but click the link to the article. Upon reading the full story, I realized that Disney was not starting a network, they were purchasing one that was already in existence. Worse yet, this site, known as “Togetherville,” is just one of many such networks!

According to an article (from last year, no less) off of Mashable.com, the Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) prohibits social sites to collect personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental permission. And yet, as a tech-saavy generation, many kids have learned to bypass this law…by simply lying.

A recent study revealed that 75% of kids, ranging from seventh to twelfth grade, have a profile on a social media site– and the numbers are only growing. Keeping this in mind, markets have opened up for ‘fun and safe’ networks for younger children. Five of the most thriving sites are:

1. Togetherville


The key to this site is the role a parent plays– they help sign their child up, create a profile for their child, and  are even responsible for picking out the child’s friends by sending email invite. Information on the site is limited to child-friendly material– YouTube videos, games, and projects. In many ways, this site is a Facebook Jr. Instead of ‘liking’ something, a child can ‘heart it.’ They can also buy and sell items using virtual money that their parents, free of cost, can give to them; this is called an allowance.

To safeguard their audience, which is primarily made up of children under the age of 10, Togetherville stresses the importance of a parental figure. Children must also agree to a code of conduct: “I agree to not say anything mean or hurtful, not say embarrassing things about myself, my friends, or my family, and take responsibility for what I say on Togetherville.” By involving children in the application process such as this, one of the best lessons to come out of this site will certainly be the message it sends about appropriate internet conduct, especially in terms of internet bullying and safety.

2. What’s What


Lauded as the “most secure social network for kids,” parents are once again a key factor in registering their child. The main difference here, however, is that parents must submit their credit card information  as well as three “mug shots” (taken with a webcam) to verify their identity. The intended market for this site is children ages 8 through 14. Drawing a slightly older audience than Togetherville, What’s What also gives the kids more freedom– they can interact with people they may not know in real life, but they can’t make friends outside of their age group (or grade year in school) without parental permission. In other ways, this site is again similar to Facebook– liking, making friends, joining groups, creating profiles. And, of course, parents have the control to edit or delete any information they may wish on their child’s profile.

3. ScuttlePad


Of course, this site also asks for parental permission, but kids also get to play a part in the process of registration. The site asks for their birthday, favorite color, and first name. After joining, they are free to use the site much as we use Facebook, but with one MAJOR catch. The site is programmed so that only a given set of words are allowed to be used in a specific format.

The site seems relatively secure, but possibly characterless due to its strict regulation. While the site may be fun for younger kids, older kids would quickly outgrow their stay.

4.giantHello


Per usual, parents help their children sign up, this time by either supplying the last 4 digits of their social security number, or by charging their credit card a grand total of one cent. Reviews say that the experiences on this site are most similar to those on mainstream social media sites. This means that a larger portion of older children prefer giantHello.

Once again, the site mimics Facebook in several respects: the kids have “walls,” friends can comment, statuses can be updated, photos can be uploaded, and fan pages can be joined. Friends must be asked via email, or given an actual invitations– yes, I’m talking about on paper– featuring a code to enter to connect. Certain celebrities, including the ever exciting Jonas Brothers (or is that so one year ago of me?) have fan pages that are updated through their Twitter accounts. This is an interesting feature since it actually does connect them to a real social networking site, albeit a filtered one.

5. Skid-e kids


Rather than asking for the constant approval and permission of parents, Skid-e kids relies primarily on staff moderators to keep the site secure. Photos are checked, messages are filtered, and stories are edited to make the site kid friendly. But the parental element is not completely eliminated– parents and kids alike are invited to create profiles.

The site features plenty of free games, although many are introduced with ads. Kids can also upload videos, comment, message, and updated statuses. Skid-e kids tends to draw an older crowd due to the rebellious nature of 10 year olds who don’t always want to have to get their mom’s permission to make any move.

 

While skeptical at first, on completion of reading the article, I have to admit my mind had been changed a bit. Perhaps these sites are beneficial, if only because they keep children off networks such as Facebook and Myspace, where the material is certainly not always G-rated. The sites also seem to strive to connect with parents, as well as children. I also really the concept of teaching children, at a young age, about proper online etiquette. Hopefully such an early introduction can help cut back on cyber-bullying by instilling a sense of respect and understanding.

We live in a world of computers, and it’s only natural that this upcoming generation take to it from an even younger age. But still– sometimes it disturbs me to see the 6-year-old who refuses to go outside and play because he prefers his gameboy, or the 10-year-old texting some buddies from school.

What do you think? I’m not trying to make social commentary, nor is this some guide to raising children– I’m honestly interesting in other people’s opinions. Perhaps someone has a first-hand experience? So…tell me about it?