The distracting noise level on social channels is amplifying while the length of thoughtful prose is diminishing.
Social media and its octopus-like tentacles that reach out and poke our kids – cajoling them to “like,” “follow” and “post” – are intimidating, and worrying, especially when new apps crop up like weeds. But when I looked to my Digital Daughter Ambassadors (DDAs) – tweens, teens and young women from around the country – to get insight into how they were managing with the proliferation of ways to communicate (text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+, Tumblr – and face-to-face), I found a lot of wisdom.
My very unscientific questionnaire of “Growing Up Female and Social” is just an ear to the ground. But I am already hearing echoes, and they offer important insights on what a diverse group of girls, my DDAs who hail from New York to Pennsylvania, Maryland to Minnesota, California to London, England – really think about social media, how they use it, and why they love it so much.
Here are some initial insights from the questionnaire, showing our girls to be wise to both the downfalls and upshots of social media.
At the outset, I asked which social media channels they favored and why. Top rankings went to Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Youtube, but other girls really loved Tumblr and Google+.
Q: What are your favorite social media channels?
Fourteen-year-old Marylander, Charlotte, a nail art expert, summed it up nicely, “I love Snapchat and Instagram to see what my friends are doing and I use YouTube if I want to learn how to do something or just as entertainment.”
My own digital daughter Amanda explained her devotion to Instagram. “I love getting an insider’s look on the lives of big people and big brands. For example, as a fashion lover, I get to see the inside of Zac Posen’s fashion studio, and as a food lover, I get to see Mario Batali’s latest creations. It makes celebrity’s lives more accessible.”
(Ahh, so Instagram is not just for “selfies,” following your friends’ enviable shopping adventures or punishing ballet poses.)
I followed up by asking:
Q: “Would you say that social networks are the best way to engage with your friends? Or do you prefer communicating face-to-face?”
The good news is that virtually all of my DDAs prefer communicating with friends face-to-face (hallelujah!).
According to Alexandra, 15, from suburban New York, “Although using social media is a fun way to talk/engage with friends, it is more important that we do most of our communicating in person and that we don’t lose the skill of talking effortlessly with others.”
For friends that are not close to home, however, they all agreed that social media is a great way to stay in touch.
According to Peyton from Charlottesville, VA, “With social media, my friends communicate more often than we would otherwise, and I can’t ‘talk’ with people who live far away.” (Of course, last time I looked, the good old telephone still exists, but almost all responded that they “never” use a LAN line and don’t even know their friends home phone numbers).
Erica, a 15-year-old from Irvine, California responded that social media is a good thing because it creates a “closer-knit society.” “With social media sites, we see more of each other’s lives than just when we see each other in person. Despite what adults think, having access to someone’s daily life without necessarily being a close friend creates a sense of familiarity among people.”
My next question asked:
Q: “Do you think social networking brings you and your friends closer?”
I got a variety of thoughtful answers:
Julia, 18, a Washington University freshman from Minnesota said, “Yes, absolutely. It’s an easy way for me to communicate with friends and stay in touch with those I don’t talk to on a daily basis.”
Charlotte (our 14-year-old nail artist) had a contrary take. “Social media absolutely does not bring my friends closer together. Recently, at lunch, my friends were glued to their phone screens, and we rarely talk anymore. They’re prioritizing things like ‘The Kim Kardashian Game’ or ‘TriviaCrack,’ over talking with each other.”
I love that these two girls – albeit at very different stages in their lives – offer two very different and astute perspectives. That is the beauty of these Digital Daughters Ambassadors, and I greatly appreciate their willingness to share.
The latest news on teens and social media is always on my radar. Social Media Scholar Danah Boyd recently wrote a savvy response to a story by Mathew Ingram in GigaOm.com titled, “When it Comes to Social Media, Teens are Not All Created Equal.” Boyd is concerned that in media and tech circles, we tend to look at teenagers (a population that’s approximately 16 million people strong) as an undifferentiated mass and generalize about what they want and don’t want from social media. I hope that through this blog, we can garner some real insights from a diverse and growing group of impressive girls, who can help us better understand what it is like to grow up in our constantly-changing digital world.
Please let me know (by posting your comments below) what questions and concerns you may have and what insights Our Digital Daughters can provide. I will keep the conversation going, and I hope you all will to.