Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:47:09 AM
The teenagers of today are often characterized as media-obsessed and pop culture-driven. They plug into their iObjects every morning, flood themselves with electronic stimuli at night, and appear to be losing the ability to write in full words, much less complete sentences. It's a bleak picture of humanity that these generalizations describe. Real social interaction is becoming obsolete, and popular media is devolving into 140-character scraps of increasingly inane subject matter. We're only a few downward slips from a dystopia both isolated and overstimulating- each person alone in a room of glowing screens, glazed eyes passing over text and images, gold-fish memories not absorbing a single word. Aren't we?
As a member of the demographic in question, I say "no". While it may seem that teenagers only want to text, Tweet, and Facebook their lives away, this superficial observation ignores an important fundamental: Teens use media to talk to their friends. It's redundantly obvious, but important. No one participates in so-called social networking because they enjoy thumbing on tiny number pads or scrolling through pages of what people ate for breakfast and "bored. txt me". But these are the available means of doing what matters, which is connecting with other people. You can ask a young person how time they spend online or on their phone, but ask instead if that comes anywhere close to talking in real life. Talking with other people, face-to-face, in the same room, has always been and always will be the most important form of media.
Yes, electronic media plays a major role in daily life, but it's too limited to replace physical presence. The words alone, abbreviated into random consonants or not, lack subtle but vital details like tone and body language. These clues aren't always consciously acknowledged in conversation, but you miss them when they're gone. Countless times have I declared the need for a sarcasm font. This ":D" is not an accurate depiction of someone's face, and I have seen friendships tried by the misinterpretation of a joke. There's only so much that can be conveyed through a medium whose purposes are speed and ease, not thoroughness. When you have replaced the sound of laughter with "lol", which stands for either "laughing out loud" or "I have nothing to say but am letting you know I'm still here", something has gone wrong.
The nature of the Internet is impersonal. When websites like Facebook claim to offer connections and sharing and rekindled friendships, what they have is a homepage lined with status updates and pictures, nothing more or less. Such a collection can be informative and interesting, but still it's only bits and pieces that aren't meant for you from a person that may or may not care about you. This is not connecting. It's observing and maybe responding, communication disjointed by time and place. And in such a socially-conscious age, the true connections are even more important. Electronic media might be taking over, but my homepage will never replace my lunch table.