Is technology setting up our children for failure?
Last week Facebook turned ten. The social media site, founded by Mark Zuckerburg whilst still an undergraduate at Harvard, today has 1.2 billion users with an average of 750 million people using it every day. For many users, there is no memory of life without Facebook, no university night gone undocumented and no new job gone un- shared. Some skeptics of this social monster argue that Facebook has begun to lose its stronghold with Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat becoming more popular with younger users. However whatever the predictions are, amongst children and teenagers Facebook and other social media channels are now an accepted part of adolescence and have become ingrained in their culture. Lou Kerner, the founder of the Social Internet Fund reports that ‘more than 20% of all time spent on the Internet is spent on Facebook’, and therefore it is little wonder that brands and businesses have invested so heavily in social. Whole divisions are created to manage social media channels, with mega brands such as Burberry and Nike leading the way and setting a precedent for others to follow. Consumers now expect every brand they interact with to have social channels and this change in demand has filtered down to the younger generation who are increasingly more social-literate than previous generations.
There is no doubt that children born today will benefit hugely from the incredible advances that we have seen in technology over the past decade. The advantage of being brought up alongside the tools that they will need to use in their education and employment are boundless. Like reading and writing, technology will become second nature to them and swiping a screen will become easier than turning the pages of a book. This is, some might argue, no bad thing and is a sign of the times we live in; the debate on how this is affecting brain development and social skills is a whole other article. However despite the many positives children and teenagers are afforded from being tech – savvy, the fact remains that children are becoming more accustomed to their lives on a screen than in real life. The worry is that these online alter egos are walking the tightrope between 21st Century living and setting themselves up for failure when real life does not pan out as neatly as their online account.
They say you are the product of your upbringing and this rings true for me. Raised free-range on a farm with no wifi and with parents who (still) think having more than 4 channels is an unnecessary frivolity meant that growing up in an increasingly technical world wasn’t always plain sailing. The last of my friends on Facebook, I was pulled kicking and screaming into a world of cyberspace and yet despite the problems my technical negligence has caused me over the years, I can’t help but feel I am one of the lucky ones. Allowed to grow up away from the glare of the phone camera in the playground and away from the self-scrutinizing selfies that many young girls now feel the pressure to participate in, I was able to live in my spotty adolescent gloriousness without having to post about it.
Nowadays however it would seem there is an increasing obsession with the self amongst children and teenagers and an urgent need for the instant gratification that an online life affords.
It’s not just children and teenagers who obsessively record themselves however, but parents too pay into this indulgent self -documentation. The one photo that used to be cherished on the mantelpiece has been replaced by a quick click and is now one among many hundreds of photos stored on the ipad or iphone. The children of today now have so many photographs of themselves on so many different social channels that we are in danger of turning these should be cherished memories into meaningless snaps.
More worryingly however is the innocent narcissism that children are beginning to so urgently crave. The second a photo is taken, they clamor to see the image and it begs the question – is this self-fascination in children becoming dangerous? We cannot avoid the desperately sad cases that are appearing with increasing regularity in the news where children and teenagers are committing suicide after letting an online obsession become a reality. Although extreme, it is not hard to see how vulnerable children can be sucked into the power of the web and the ready availability of technology makes it easier for them to achieve this.
As a platform for business, social media is, quite simply invaluable. It encourages necessary interaction between the customer and the business, provides vital insights that businesses can use to understand its client base, and can be the difference between a business being big and a business being global. It has taken time for all industries to appreciate the powerful force of social media and there was a time when ‘Facebook-ing’ was perceived as being unserious with evidence of its influence remaining inconclusive. Now the tide has changed as brands clamor to get in on the act worried about being left behind. The fact that children are now starting their lives out on social media from such an early age means that in time the demand for social media will be even greater than it is now and brands will compete, as they are beginning to do now, to have the most effective campaigns on social. Far from being the techno-phobic recluse of my formative years, my job now means that I have to be at the forefront of social developments and ever-evolving trends. My career in social media however did not begin because of an upbringing updating my status, but of the desire to be a part of the digital age and the merits of social media in my professional life are clearly evident. However, although my life now is one saturated with hashtags and trend reports, I sure am glad it began with dog eared copies of Enid Blyton and back garden mud pies as those are the memories that can’t be as easily replaced as the next generations soon – to – be – old iphone 5’s.