Apr 10, 2010 Comments Off
I found this week’s readings very relatable. As an 18 year old, I have experienced the transition from young teenager to older teenager, and I can also compare my current habits to my 13 year old sister’s. I agreed with the findings of the Livingstone study: that older and younger teenagers are looking for different things in regard to their online profiles, that teens are more aware of privacy issues that adults give them credit for, and that having an active online social life isn’t always such a bad thing.
In the introduction to her article, Livingstone states that “While younger teenagers relish the opportunities to recreate continuously a highly-decorated, stylistically-elaborate identity, older teenagers favour a plain aesthetic that foregrounds their links to others, thus expressing a notion of identity lived through authentic relationships” (2008, p. 393). When I compare my sister’s Facebook page to my own, I can see this difference clearly. Ryan’s wall is full of messages from the different applications she uses stating that she has reached a new high score or unlocked the next level. She does have plenty of wall posts from friends, but their comments use lots of abbreviations, add extra levels, and feature plenty of exclamation points and hearts. She never deletes the record of her activities, so there’s a long list stating that she liked this person’s photo, wrote on that person’s wall, etc. When I look at my wall, I notice that I don’t have any messages from applications, and I’m conscious to delete most of my activities. The wall posts I’ve received are not necessarily in perfect English, but they do feature more words spelled correctly and proper punctuation. From my observations, I’ve deduced that while I primarily use my Facebook to casually keep in touch with friends, my younger sister uses her Facebook to showcase her every activity.
While this might also depend on age, teens are concerned about the amount of privacy they can apply to their online profiles. Livingstone found that teenagers apply the lessons they’ve learned about privacy for the real world to their online lives. One of her interview subjects, Sophie, stated that “I don’t give stuff away that I’m not willing to share” (2008, p. 404). Teens are aware that posting their home address or even cell phone number might not be such a good idea and try to privatize their profiles as much as possible. They also look for ways to create custom privacy settings: interview subject Nina was “frustrated that her site [did] not allow her to discriminate between who knows what about her within her 300 or so ‘friends” (Livingstone 2008, p. 405). Nina, as well as other teens, knows that not all of her “friends” are actually her friends. Luckily, now Facebook has introduced updated privacy settings so that users can choose how much access to give specific “friends”. Concerns about privacy online will never disappear, but teens are doing more to keep themselves safe than people realize.
There is a lot of publicity about the harm caused by sites like Facebook and Myspace, including cyberbullying and worries about the prevalence of pedophiles. However, there are everyday benefits that stem from having an online profile. One of the teenagers that Livingstone interviewed, Elena, said that she liked when people wrote encouraging messages on her profile: “It’s like quite nice, I think, when people say you’re pretty…I like it when they comment me because, like, it shows they care” (2008, p. 399). When the owner of a Facebook page is visually presented with demonstrations of support, his or her self-esteem rises. Everyone likes being complimented on their profile picture or receiving a wall post saying “Just thinking about you!”. Even if you’ve had a bad day, a message from a far-away friend on Facebook can cheer you up.
Online user-driven sites provide resources that can go beyond the support of an average friendship. The Smith article told the story of the song “Sophie”, which went from being completely unknown to an anthem for those suffering from anorexia. The song’s lyrics touched some listeners so deeply that they were inspired to seek help for their disorder or continue fighting it. The author of the song has received comments on her MySpace page saying “I’m struggling tonight and I happened upon your page. It must be a God thing, and I felt the need to thank you for ‘Sophie” and “I am now going to go and get help for my eating disorder instead of continually trying to convince myself and the counsellors I don’t have a problem” (Smith 2009). It would have been more difficult for listeners to both hear the song and express their gratitude for it without the benefits of social networking sites.
The online world is not perfect. Livingstone acknowledges that online profiles can turn into unhealthy and obsessive demonstrations of status and popularity and, as in the offline world as well, online “friends” can sometimes be cruel (2008, p. 403). However, I do think that online profiles can be helpful for teenagers’ social development. They learn their own preferences, whether it be the colorful, snazzy world of MySpace or the more streamlined style of Facebook. They make decisions regarding their own stance on how much privacy is appropriate and (eventually) learn how to control that. Most importantly, they can form their own supportive community, whether it be based around day-to-day friendships or struggles with hardships. These sites allow teenagers to grow up and chart their own evolution.