In defense of facebook...

Nick Stirling wants to be a writer, photographer, and artist, but he only gets paid to be a teacher.  Luckily, he enjoys being a teacher enough that he is able to keep blogging at Exercising Monsters on a regular basis. Topics include (but are not limited to) his adorable daughter, social justice, and video games.

Being a relatively young teacher, I am at once surrounded by older colleagues and twelve-year-olds.  If there is one single topic that stimulates discussion from both groups, it is Facebook.

At this point, Facebook is so ubiquitous that it is hard to even imagine the world before it was around.  Most of our parents (and a few of our grandparents) are on Facebook, which used to mean the death-knell of any given cultural movement.  But, Zuckerberg’s cash cow continues to grow in spite of the fact that my mother operates multiple poetry groups on it.

For my students, Facebook needs no defense.  It is their social medium, regardless of the fact that most of them signed up against the age-restricting policies of the site, and I imagine that many of them would be devastated to ever lose it.  They argue that it is a safe space for them to interact with friends.  They can express themselves away from parents.  Fair enough.

It’s the attitude of the adults around me that I find inexplicable.

I often have to listen to, “Oh, I don’t do Facebook.”

(That statement is made with the same emphasis and dogmatic assurance that many of my colleagues reserve for their highway driving policies.  “Oh, I don’t drive on the highway.  It is far too dangerous.”)

What I will not do is suggest that Facebook is for everyone.  Some people are proactive about calling up their friends, writing and emailing regularly, or scrapbooking, so the social utility of it is redundant.  If you don’t need it, don’t sign up.  That makes total sense to me.

But, if you don’t sign up, accept that you might be missing out on a few things.  You may not have the chance to reconnect with old school friends, you may never see pictures of distant family members, or you might not get an invite to a few Stag and Does.  That’s a natural consequence of not being part of a social network; having an unlisted phone number or no active email might result in the same sorts of issues.

But that isn’t even the real issue.  Most intelligent adults accept that by choosing not to embrace a new form of technology they may inconvenience themselves or others that have chosen to stay current.  The bigger issue is this absurd backlash, this intense anti-Facebook elitism.

To those anti-Facebook elitists, here are my responses.

“These kids have no idea how to interact face-to-face anymore.”

Bull.  I teach kids, and they are perfectly capable of interacting with each other.  They don’t always do it in front of you, but I never interacted comfortably with peers in front of adults when I was a younger, and there were no social networking sites at all back then.  (Okay, maybe MySpace, but that was really just something for crappy bands to use as free advertisement.)  And last time I checked, being able to communicate online over distances was pretty damn important in most jobs, so I would be much more hesitant to hire someone that has been cloistered away from computers their whole life.

 “Facebook is dangerous.”

Anything is dangerous if you enter into it ignorantly, and that includes driving your car on the highway.  My dad insisted that I take driving lessons, and he made sure to show me how to drive defensively every time that we were in the car together.  All of the safeguards you could ever need are on Facebook.  I make a point of listing them all off to my students each and every year that I teach, giving concrete examples of how predators could use things like publically accessible information about their location.

“Kids waste so much of their time on Facebook.”

Yep, they do.  And you wasted an equal amount of time yakking on the phone or sitting on your friend’s bed, talking about the next school dance.  The nature of youth is that much of it is frittered away on silly things.  Your experience was no more inspired than that of any other generation, so stop acting like the online equivalent of the local park at dusk somehow negates this generation’s importance.

If you want an example of a waste of time, go to a restaurant and listen to the adult conversations going on around.  90% of them are so empty, so devoid of content, that you’ll feel stupider just for having overheard them.  If you think that Facebook is vapid, it is because humanity tends toward shallowness, not because the people on Facebook are any more or less significant than those that are not.

It drives me absolutely mad when I have to listen to someone complain that we should never address Facebook in school, that we should try to push kids away from it, that teachers shouldn’t even have a profile, even if it is fully blocked to anyone but their closest friends.  The world changes every day, and the people that whine about it are the same ones that declared that the telephone was an intrusion on their homes and the television was a direct link to hell.

Social networking is a reality.  Complaining about it won’t change a thing.

-written by Nick Stirling, reposted with permssion.